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Syria eyes Olympic success in Tokyo despite huge challenges

DAMASCUS: Syria is aiming to secure the war-battered country’s fourth-ever Olympic medal in Tokyo, but one of its few world-class athletes is less optimistic after struggling to access coaching and facilities for the past four years.

The decade-long civil war and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have drained Syria’s resources and left elite sport low on the list of priorities.

High jumper Majd Eddin Ghazal, who finished seventh at the 2016 Rio Olympics before winning a bronze medal a year later at the world championships in London, has trained for years under Syrian coach Imad Sarraj, who he hails as one of the best in the country.

But Sarraj moved to Oman in 2017 to train the national team there, leaving Ghazal without a coach close at hand. “We have not found a solution to this problem for four years,” Ghazal said.

“I am adamant on coach Imad Sarraj… but he works in Oman and we are trying to get him to Tokyo,” he added.

Since returning from a few months of training in Oman in March, Ghazal has had to train without his coach, as the pandemic further complicated international travel.

“The coronavirus affected the course of the training plan,” he said. “My preparation for the Rio Olympics was better,” added the athlete, who has not participated in any international competition since 2019.

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