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FEATURE Made in Germany - Palestine's sole Rio rider By Michael Rossmann, dpa

Europe
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From the Rhine to Rio by way of Palestine - dressage rider from Germany has Palestinian allegiance at the Olympic Games.

Hanover, Germany (dpa) - A single dressage rider is registered with the international equestrian federation FEI for Palestine - and he is a German businessman from Cologne.

Christian Zimmermann‘s start at the Olympics in Rio is a curiosity of the Games. But riding for Palestine "was certainly not a crazy idea," the 54-year-old says.

"It was quite a process," Zimmermann says of the mental and procedural journey which has allowed him to compete in Rio for Palestine.

"It was a difficult decision, especially as a German."

Palestine is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but not by the country of his birth. He now has dual citizenship and is recognized by the equestrian federation as a Palestinian athlete.

"I have kept a German passport," Zimmermann said. "The (German) authorities have explained to me that Palestine for them is not relevant."

Zimmermann‘s sporting journey to Palestine began about 10 years ago when the entrepreneur took up riding again after a long absence. He had Palestinian friends who asked him if he could imagine riding for Palestine. He could, and since 2013 he has been on the FEI books as a Palestinian.

He mentally played through all the ramifications of "such a far-reaching decision. "Sporting, personally , politically. Quite pragmatically the change also means more freedom," he says. And then there was the opportunity to appear at the Olympics.

Thanks to a quota system operated by the IOC and the FEI for certain regions, he has his Rio ticket. As a German it would have been impossible to be at the Games. The percentages Zimmermann has achieved with his horse Aramis would inevitably have meant last place at a German championship.

For Zimmermann, equestrian sport is a hobby even though he is an amateur riding at a high level of expertise. His company has some 700 employees worldwide with a turnover of 136 million euros in 2013-2014. He has to fit his training in with a tight business schedule.

He has described an average day to eurodressage.com as getting up at 5.30 am to ride before work, then sometimes working until 9 pm.

"You hardly have a private life. I live in two worlds, at least. I ride four times a week, I go running twice, I do yoga every day. I work a lot, I ride a lot, but you pay a price. I hardly have any time for my friends and building relationships is not easy," he was quoted as saying.

Now he is in Rio living his Olympic dream.

"Participating at the Olympics is still the ultimate despite all the negative aspects which we have been seeing in recent days," he said.

His first impressions are overall positive even though he says: "If the infrastructure is very advanced and nearing completion, there seems to be room for improvement in the degree of organization for the logistics of all the parties.

"However the efforts of all the representatives of the IOC to be available to provide every possible help in a friendly way is very striking."

Zimmermann has a room in the Olympic village and accommodation for his small team near the equestrian centre. Equestrian sport is an expensive business. Apart from the rider and his Finnish coach Henri Ruoste "our small group" includes a veterinary doctor and a nurse.

On the sporting side, Zimmermann is aiming for a place in the top 50. As Christian Bruehe, before taking on the surname of his wife, Zimmermann was 68th at the world championships two years ago.

"I have relatively strong nerves," he said. "We will see. The Olympics is a bit different."

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