Berlin refugee teen prepares to swim at the Olympics

Yusra Mardini has been nominated for the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Still, this tournament may seem like one of her lighter challenges.

Berlin refugee teen prepares to swim at the Olympics
Photo: DPA

In a few days Mardini, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee who currently lives in Berlin, will head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to swim in the Olympics.

She has already become the poster girl for the Refugee Olympic Athletes, a new team for this year's games to provide those athletes who have fled their homelands with the chance to compete.

But Mardini's swimming heroics have already made her famous.

A year ago, along with her sister and one other woman she pulled the boat she was crossing from Turkey to Greece on to safety. The vessel designed for six to seven people had capsized with 20 refugees on board and it took the three women several hours to drag it to shore.

“Many people are inspired by me. I don't want to disappoint them”, Mardini said, adding that she wants to show “that refugees aren't just victims. We can make an effort and achieve something. We are someone.”

Ever since Mardini has been competing for a spot on the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes, the media has been after her story.

TV stations have asked her to come in, she has received over 1,000 requests for interviews – Hollywood even wanted to turn her experiences into a movie.

On social media, too, the young Syrian has picked up quite a following. Many have been reacting to her Facebook posts or supported her via Twitter, like this user:

Yusra Mardini and her coach Sven Spannekrebs; Photo: DPA

Swimming for the next Olympics

She and her sister escaped from Damascus, Syria in the summer of 2015. Their journey led them from Lebanon, over Turkey to Greece until they finally arrived in Berlin on September 4th 2015, reports the Berliner Zeitung.

Soon afterwards she started training at the sports club Wasserfreunde Spandau. On June 3rd, the International Olympic Committee nominated her for the team of refugee Olympic athletes along with nine others.   

“Our excitement is building day by day and we're thinking about what will happen”, said her supervisor and coach Sven Spannekrebs, who is also looking forward to his first time at the Olympics.

“I am proud and thankful that I can be part of this”, said Mardini.  

Though she has been practising for 30 hours a week, she is unlikely to go further than the preliminary rounds: due to the war in Syria, she had to put her swimming on hold for two years.

But that doesn't lower her ambitions. She is already looking towards the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. “There, just like every athlete, I'm dreaming of getting the gold medal”, she said.

Before that though, she will be one of the competitors celebrated during the Olympics opening ceremony at Marakana Stadium on August 5th.

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