Thursday, Jul. 24, 2008

32. Nader al Masri

Long Distance Running
Age: 28

A long distance runner needs a finishing kick, and Nader al Masri learned the hard way how to pour on the speed: living in the embattled Palestinian enclave of Gaza, he's used to sprinting away from whizzing bullets and Israeli missiles. For 10 years, al Masri has trained for the 5,000m race in the Olympics. Every morning, he would lace up his tattered running shoes and lope off along bomb-cratered roads as kids shouted "Run, Nader, Run!" But his dreams of competing in Beijing, along with three other Palestinian athletes, nearly didn't happen. At first, Israel, which controls Gaza's borders, denied him exit; Palestinians have been barred from leaving Gaza since Hamas militants seized control in June 2007. Only after Israeli human rights activists intervened al Masri was allowed out. Now the bark of the starter's pistol is the only sound of gunfire that al Masri will have to worry about.