INCHEON - Palestinian Olympic swimmer Sabine Hazboun is lonely living and training in Spain after she was forced to leave Bethlehem where a crumbling swimming pool held back her times.
The 20-year-old, enrolled at a Barcelona sports institute for the past three years, told AFP she is delighted to be back amongst her compatriots at the Asian Games in South Korea.
"I'm happy to be here with other Palestinian people," the pint-sized swimmer said.
"I always want the feeling that I'm part of a team and I hope they (other Palestinian athletes) appreciate it because I do.
"In Barcelona I'm all by myself. I'm alone. Here I enjoy being with the others, to laugh with them." Hazboun became the pride of the Palestinian territories in 2012 when she competed in the women's 50m freestyle at the London Olympics, finishing in a personal best time of 28.28 seconds in the heats. It put her in 51st place out of 74.
The sprinter showed promise in the pool at an early age but it was clear she was going to have to leave the West Bank to fulfil her potential.
"The swimming facilities were really bad," she said. "The pool was only 18 metres long. So if I wanted to do 100 metres I'd swim six lengths.
"It needed lots of repairs. They are still doing them now." "I only used to swim twice a week because of the facilities. Normal people who just like to swim, they go twice a week, but a professional swimmer doesn't!" In Gaza, where Israel fought a 50-day war with Hamas until a truce was agreed on August 26, the situation is even worse.
"There are no swimming facilities there," Hazboun said. "People just swim in the sea."
Hampered by facilities
Hazboun, who competed at the last Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, is convinced the run-down pool hampered her development at a crucial stage.
"It has affected me a lot," she said. I have known some 17-year-old swimmers here since they were 13 and they improved a lot more than I did." Hazboun left Bethlehem in October 2011 through an international sports programme that took her to Barcelona where she studies translation and interpretation as well as swimming four kilometres (2.5 miles) a day.
She describes it as a tough but "wonderful opportunity".
"It's very difficult being away from Palestine and family. I miss everything," she said.
"I have no social life in Barcelona, just the practice. All of my university friends they will party every Thursday, Friday, but I can never go out. I don't complain though because I'm happy with this as long as I see the results." Hazboun, who speaks English and Spanish fluently, says that while not wanting to appear ungrateful, she often finds the burden of having shown sporting promise difficult to deal with.
"Sometimes I get tired of it. You have a lot of responsibilities... for your country... and pressure from myself and everywhere," she said.
Hazboun, one of three Palestinian swimmers at the Asiad, is targeting the Rio Olympics in 2016, but said it was difficult knowing that if she wants to be successful she can never go back home.
"I used to swim to escape from reality but this escape drove me to a worse reality that meant I could not swim.
"It drove me to more problems because I didn't have any facilities. I'm stuck with it but I'm happy," she said.