Published: Wed, August 03, 2016
Sport | By Billy Aguilar

Refugees set for Olympic spotlight

Refugees set for Olympic spotlight

After four weeks of training, Mardini's coach, Sven Spannerkrebs, began making plans for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 - but in March of this year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced there would be a team of refugees at this summer's Games in Rio to send "a message of hope for all the refugees in our world".

Anis will be competing in the 100 m butterfly event while Mardini will be in the 200 m freestyle swimming event. Each of these women has an unbelievable story to tell.

Make no mistake, the refugee athletes have earned their places at the Olympics: All 10 have met qualifying criteria.

Eighteen-year-old Yusra Mardini, who has been swimming since she was three, has a dramatic story of escape from her home country. Her house was sacked upon, and the roof of the swimming club she trained in was blown apart by bombs.

"We have iron wills and we feel really sad because of the wars in our country but this does not kill our spirit".

Yusra faced many problems until she reached Berlin in September 2015. "It is the most important thing in my life". But they have no way of representing their countries, countries they were forced to flee. She explained that she would be running for her family, for the refugees at Kakuma and for each and every one of the 21 million refugees in the world. She didn't come back.

"The fighting started in our village then they ran away letting us go to another town".

"The Olympic Committee made it happen".

The five athletes, all of whom now reside in Kenya, will take part in track and field races.

'I am representing people who lost their rights, who suffered injustice, ' he said.

HAVING LEFT the Democratic Republic of the Congo three years ago seeking asylum in Brazil, Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika will be two of the more unique competitors in judo at this year's Olympic Games. "You are a swimmer, and whoever is next to you is a swimmer, too, even if it is a world champion." .

Once in Greece, Mardini and her sister travelled north through Europe where they found a mixed reception.

"Today I come out representing Refugees Olympic Team and everybody cheers for me".

Speaking to the worldwide press at a news conference Saturday (30 July) swimmer Rami Anis, who fled Syria with a small suitcase, offered a new phrase for the world to consider. The team will also have its own entourage of members and coaches like every other team. "It's not an easy team", said Tegla Loroupe, the ROT's chef de mission.

"We all know we are representing refugees all over the world", 400-metre runner James Chiengjiek said. I always used to say to myself, do not despair. But at this moment we are their light.

They've come a long way, but Wagner said if any of them get through the qualifying heats at the Olympics, it'll be huge.

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