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From Syria to Rio: A young woman has her Olympic victory even before it starts

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games. What an adventure. (Eduardo Gabão / Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Guru
29th July, 2016
15

The United Nations says that 75 per cent of the Syrian population today (13.5 million of 17.9 million estimated in March this year) needs humanitarian assistance.

That’s a staggering number, and that’s not all.

Another heart wrenching piece of statistics – between 2010 and 2016, the number of school age children (not school going, just school age) fell by one million.

Yusra Mardini was one of those million children, but her story is about to have a happy ending.

Exactly one year ago, 18-year old Mardini, a normal iPhone-wielding once-affluent Syrian, torn from a bombed out home, decided she didn’t want to be yet another of the living dead in Syria. She said she would take her chances to escape from the country, like four million of her countrymen had done in the past 4.5 years of the conflict.

Over 25 days, she and her sister survived the journey starting from Damascus through jungles, mountains, and across the Mediterranean to Greece, before finally making their way to Berlin in Germany. She travelled 1000 miles to a better life.

The journey involved swimming for hours in the open sea and helping to drag the flimsy boat which took in water soon after the sea ‘voyage’ to Lesbos started. Her fellow passengers on this smugglers boat will be forever grateful that the Mardini sisters had been swimming from the age of three. Yusra Mardini, before the devastation started, was a swimmer supported by the Syrian Olympic Committee.

On arriving in Berlin, a friend introduced Yusra to one of Berlin’s oldest Swimming Clubs. Within four weeks, her coach there, Sven Spannerkrebs, identified her as a prospect for Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But Yusra would not have to wait that long.

In March 2016, the IOC had announced that there would be a team of refugees participating at Rio. Mardini was shortlisted. In June, she was told she would be representing ‘Team Refugee’ at Rio under the Olympic flag.

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She knows better than anyone that Tokyo 2020 is the earliest she can possibly win a medal, but whatever the result of the Women’s 200m Freestyle at the Olympic Pool in Rio on the seventh of August 2016, Yusra Mardini is already a winner.