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NEWS FEATURE Berlin runner puts Palestine on Olympic marathon map By Andreas Schirmer, dpa

Europe
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Mayada Al-Sayad, a German-born marathon runner from Berlin, starts for Palestine in the marathon on Sunday in a Games first.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - German-born runner Mayada Al-Sayad is set to write a new chapter in Palestinian sporting history when she runs in the women‘s marathon on Sunday.

Berlin-based Al-Sayad will be the first women marathon racer for Palestine at an Olympic Games

"I want to race a personal best and finish in the middle of the field," the Palestinian opening ceremony flag bearer told dpa of her ambitions in Rio.

Al-Sayad, a 23-year-old dental technician, made her debut for the national team of Palestine at last year‘s world athletics championships in Beijing when she finished 50th in 2 hours 53 minutes 39 seconds.

It was not an outstanding time, but Al-Sayad, who runs in Berlin for Fortuna Marzahn, feels she should go better in Rio and now wants to improve her personal best of 2:39:48 reached at the Dubai marathon earlier this year.

"Everything has improved. I am very happy," she said.

In order to increase basic speed, Al-Sayad has been running numerous races over shorter distances, and finished fourth over 10,000 metres at the German championships.

"My competition toughness has improved. In the 10,000 metres I had to fight in a large field and managed to battle my way through," she said.

Shorter races do not, however, strengthen stamina to endure the marathon distance of 42.195 kilometres, and so she has been running 38 kilometres twice a day in her preparations for the Games.

"I find it easier to run long distances than have to run 10 times 10,000 metres," she said.

The Palestine team has six athletes in Rio, and Al-Sayad says on her website she feels it is an honour to present her country at the Games "and to be able to show Palestine in a positive light."

Palestine has been at the Games since 1996 and Al-Sayad also hopes that other young Palestinians "also get to enjoy sports or athletics."

Al-Sayad‘s mother is German while father Mauwiya is a Palestinian. The idea that she could run for Palestine came from an acquaintance of her father who works in the Palestinian representative office in Berlin.

To introduce herself to Palestinians she took part in a half marathon in Bethlehem on April 3. "I was there to show (people) that I am the marathon runner who starts at the Olympics for Palestine," she said.

After the Olympics, she could continue her athletic career as a German runner.

She has dual citizenship, and because Palestine is not recognized by Germany as a state does not need to worry about any possible bar on competing for Germany.

"Germany is my country and I have a good connection with it - and my mother is German. But nothing is yet clear," she said.

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