Azad Al-Barazi: Swimming for Syria
A Californian surfer was among the more unlikely athletes being sworn into Syria’s team at the Olympic Village today. Swimmer Azad Al-Barazi is more accustomed to the sunny beaches of Santa Monica than the warring streets of Damascus, but he was one of 10 athletes at the country’s official welcoming ceremony this afternoon.
The 24-year-old poster boy for Team Assad is a Los Angeles lifeguard who was born in Saudi and has lived in America since he was seven. His parents are both from Syria and his father grew up in Hama, where some of the bloodiest atrocities of the conflict took place last month.
“It’s hard every time you hear something about Syria, it’s another load of people dying in this place or that. I try to block it out“, he said, speaking from his Swiss training camp on Saturday. “It’s kind of hard just to think of family out there while I’m over here enjoying the sunshine.”
Commenting on whether it was right to compete for Syria while the country was in turmoil, he said: “I look at it as a positive thing. We need a change. With me going and competing, people can say ‘wow, look at this guy, with all the things going on in Syria, he’s still competing.’”
His family in Syria supported his decision to go to the Games: “My family are proud of me. Every day they say they’re praying for me and ‘you raise our heads’. They say keep doing what you’re doing.” When he went to Damascus in October last year to get his citizenship and join the Olympic team it was only his third visit to the country. He admits the timing is unfortunate: “It’s kind of wrong place, wrong time, with the whole situation of Syria and the whole political thing. It’s too bad.”
When not working as a Santa Monica lifeguard he does surf instruction and makes surfboards. He trains with California’s Trojan Swim Club, but has been in Switzerland for the last week, to remove the temptation of waves. “If the beach is in front of me I’m in the water surfing, so I need to get away from distractions,” he said.
Though he now has dual citizenship, he’d still like to compete for the USA one day. “I never tried out for the US; it’s so competitive. Maybe in 2016 I’ll give it a shot. I’ll see where I’m at, but as now I haven’t tried. The US swimmers are way faster.”Tagged in: Assad, hama, London 2012, olympics, swimming, syria
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