Sunday, August 17, 2008
Swimming Against the Flow
Beijing- Most of the attention at Friday's swim heats was on Dara Torres and whether the 41-year-old mother and five-time Olympian would qualify for the semifinals in the 50-meter freestyle. But I prefer the stories about the swimmers to whom few reporters paid any attention. Because neither the qualifying standards nor the competition is as high in other countries as in the United States, the earliest heats in the 50 free included swimmers who are absolutely no threat to win medals -- at least one of them could be described as fat -- but have interesting stories nonetheless.
Swimmers such as Antoinette Joyce Guedia Moufa of Cameroon. Two months shy of her 13th birthday, she not only is the youngest swimmer here, she is almost 29 years younger than Torres. Or Pamela Girimbabazi of Rwanda, where genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis devastated the country in the 1990s. The country is among the poorest on the globe with a life expectancy so low (late 30s) that if Torres had been born there, she might very likely be dead and buried rather than swimming in the Olympics. While the Americans swim in speedsuits that can cost more than $300, Girimbabazi wore a regular swimsuit for her heat. She finished third in a time of 39.78, more than nine seconds behind her heat's winning time and 15 seconds behind the best time of the night. That's more than half a pool length.But she was here. And she carried Rwanda's flag at the Opening Ceremonies.
Then there is Zakia Nassar. She's a 21-year-old Palestinian from Bethlehem studying dentistry in Jenin, a city in the West Bank. She said it has been her dream since she was 10 to swim in the Olympics but there is no pool available for training in Jenin. There is an Olympic-sized, 50-meter pool in nearby Nazareth, but the Israeli government did not give her permission to use it."Without permission, there is no way to go there ... (may continue reading here)