Mayada al-Sayad trains at a sports club on Berlin’s Avenue of the Cosmonauts as she aims to become a pioneer in her own right as the first woman to run a World Championship marathon for Palestine.
The 23-year-old will compete in tomorrow’s race in Beijing and has already booked her ticket to next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I want to experience the adventure and the atmosphere in a super field,” al-Sayed said.
Al-Sayed has a German mother and a Palstinian father. She was born in Berlin and has dual citizenship. The idea to compete for Palestine came from an acquaintance of her father who works in the Palestinian embassy in Berlin.
“Palestine wants to build up a team for Rio,” al-Sayed said, adding that “I don’t have political but only sporting reasons to compete for Palestine.”
Al-Sayed spends time every summer in Palestine with her sisters, and in Beijing she met teammate Abukhousa Mohamed who competed in the men’s 200 metres and went out in the heats in 21.36 seconds.
While the Palestine Olympic Committee paid for her trip to China, al-Sayed is mainly sponsored by her father who runs a dental equipment company.
Al-Sayed qualified for the Worlds (and Olympics) by coming 13th in the Hamburg Marathon in April, clocking 2 hours 41 minutes 44 seconds for the 42.195-kilometres distance. It was a steady improvement from 3:06 hours 2013 and 2:53 last year—both in Frankfurt.
“Mayada has a lot of potential but she isn’t a pro,” her coach Tobias Singer said.
Al-Sayed also competes over shorter distances, for instance placing eighth over 5,000m at the recent German championships. She is fast enough to compete on the big stage in the distance track races as well but insists “I will stay with the marathon”.
In Beijing, al-Sayed hopes for a place “somewhere in midfield” among around 70 starters led by Kenyan title holder Edna Kiplagat and Ethiopian season leader Mare Dibaba (2:19:52).