Bezabeh granted citizenship to take part in Olympics

7th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

The Ethiopian athlete has been granted Spanish nationality seven months after arriving in Spain without papers.

7 July 2008

MADRID - Seven months after arriving in Spain without papers, Ethiopian athlete Alemayehu Bezabeh has been granted Spanish nationality, allowing him to represent the country in the Beijing Olympic Games in the 5,000 metres.

The government's decision comes just days before Bezabeh's residency permit was due to expire. "I appreciate the support of the Spanish authorities, and promise not to disappoint anybody: I will return the favour with medals," was the 20-year-old's response.

To secure his place in Beijing, Bezabeh must first officially secure the minimum time in 5,000 metres as a Spaniard. He will then be able to participate in the national championships in Tenerife on 27 July, where he will be up against the current European champion, Jesús España, among others.

"He will probably achieve that time at the Barcelona meeting next week, although he might still have problems with his leg. But this kid can do 5,000 metres comfortably in 13m 10s, which is more than enough for Beijing," says his trainer Manolo Pascua.

Bezabeh arrived in Spain penniless two years ago, but with the intention of making a career for himself as a runner. For a time he lived in a park, but when he contacted a running club his potential was immediately recognised. Bezabeh has a fractured tibia caused by over-running, and which could have been avoided with proper rest.

"He's a great kid," says María José Martínez, Pascua's wife, and herself a trainer. "He lives to run. He never complains, he is able to bear pain like nobody I've ever met. But we have him training on soft surfaces. Next week we are going to give him a resonance scan, and we'll find out what the problem is."

Bezabeh's case is similar to that of Francis Obikwelu, the Nigerian 100 metres champion, who was given Spanish nationality and won silver in Athens in 2004.

He now lives in Madrid and also trains with Pascua and Martínez. "But the difference is that Francis was already a recognised athlete, whereas nobody has heard of Bezabeh, not even in Ethiopia," notes Miguel Mostaza, his agent. "He has never run with the Ethiopian team, which means he won't have any problems joining the Spanish team."

Other foreign athletes that have become naturalised Spaniards are facing difficulties. Cubans Luis Felipe Méliz and Frank Casañas' chances of representing Spain in the long jump and discus, respectively, due to the different rules of the International Athletics Federation and the Olympic Charter.

María José Martínez says that growing numbers of migrants without residency permits have approached her hoping to compete as Spaniards. "The other day, two Moroccan lads were here, looking for a place, but they just weren't good enough."

[El Pais / Carlos Arribas / Expatica]

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