They ran, swam and faught their way to the Rio Olympics. Team Refugee is here to put a face to the strife of displacement and a name to the success of human perserverance. They represent the hopes and dreams of 65 million displaced people - they've got the world on their shoulders, but, no pressure.
On August 5th, these fearless dreamers and fierce competitors marched into the arena with hope: to one day return to their home countries, for peace, to be reunited with their families. Meet the athletes whose struggles have been great, but whose strength is even greater.
Rami Anis, 25, from Aleppo, Syria. Refugee in Belgium. Sport: Swimming / 100m Butterfly.
To avoid the draft, Rami and his family fled to Istanbul, Turkey in 2011. While in Instanbul, he pursued his passion of swimming. Since he did not have his citizenship, he was unable to compete. "It's like someone who is studying, studying, studying and he can't take the exam," he said. So, he decided to follow his dream and set out to the Greek island of Samos floating in a dinghy with tree branches for oars. After a long journey he finally landed in Belgium, where he applied for asylum in December, 2015. Today he trains at the Royal Ghent Swimming Club and is coached by Carine Verbauwen.
Competing in Men's 100m freestyle Tues., August 9 and Men's 100m butterfly Thurs., August 11
Yolande Bukasa Mabika, 28, from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugee in Brazil. Sport: Judo / Women's 70 Kg.
She was born in the Bukavu area a part of the Democratic Republic that was severely affected by the Second Congo War. As a child, she was separated from her parents and sent to live in a children's home in the capital Kinshasa.
In 2013, she traveled to Brasil to compete in the World Judo Championships, but her coach confiscated her money and passport, then locked her in a hotel room. She managed to escape with her fellow competitor Popole Misenga and in her bid for refugee status, she revealed that her former coaches would deprive her of food and lock her in a cage if she did not preform well. She was granted refugee status by the UNHCR in 2014. Now she trains at the Instituto Reação under coach Geraldo Bernardes in Rio de Janeiro.
"My message to the refugees of the world would be not to give up on hope and to keep believing, to have faith in their hearts."
Competing in Women's 70 Kg Wed., August 10
Paulo Amotun Lokoro, 24, from South Sudan. Refugee in Kenya. Sport: Athletics/ Men's 1500m
When violence broke out in 2004, he was separated from his parents. He moved in with his uncle, but war eventually reached his village and Lokoro was forced to flee to Kenya. In 2015, the Tegla Loroupe Foundation organized an athletics trial at his camp. He competed and earned himself a place at the athletics foundation in Nairobi. He now trains under coach Tegla Loroupe, former world record holder and Olympic champion marathon runner.
"I am so happy. I know I am racing on behalf of refugees. I was one of those refugees in the camp and now I have reached somewhere special. If I perform well, I will use that to help support my family and my people."
Competing in Men's 1500m, Tues., August 16
Yusra Mardini, 18, from Syria. Refugee in Germany. Sport: Swimming/ Women's 100m Freestyle.
Before the war she represented Syra in international competitions, but was forced to flee from Damascus in August 215. The motor of the boat she was on stopped in the middle of the Aegean Sea and began to take on water. She and her sister along with two others dove into the frigid water - they were the only swimmers. With a rope around her arm, she swam for three hours to the shore of the Greek Island, Lesbos. In March 2016, about a year after she reached Berlin, Germany, she was granted refugee status. She now trains at club Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 under the guidance of coach Sven Spannekreb.
"My message at these Games is just never give up," she said.
Competing in Women's 100m freestyle Tues., August 10. Completed Women's 100 m butterfly, Rank: 41
Yiech Pur Biel, 21, South Sudan. Refugee in Kenya. Sport: Athletics/ Men's 800m.
In 2005, he fled from his home town of Nasir in South Sudan. He was just a child when he made the dangerous treck, while his parents remained in Nasir. He never saw them again. Just one of 179,000 residents, he grew up in the camp where he learned to love to run. He stood out from the rest of his classmates as a talented runner and, in 2015, he qualified for a place on the Tegla Loroupe Foundation's athletics team. He has been training with them ever since.
"Even if I don't get gold or silver, I will show the world that, as a refugee, you can do something," he said.
Competing Men's 800m Friday, August 12
Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, Flag Bearer, South Sudan. Refugee in Kenya. Sport: Athletics/ Women's 800m -
When she was 10 years old, Lokonyen fled with her family to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. She and her siblings stayed at the camp while her parents returned to South Sudan in 2008. To help with the loss of separation, she began to run. She didn't know how good she was until she participated in a 10 km race organized by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. They selected her to train with the foundation and she has been competing for them ever since.
"I will be very happy to hold that refugee flag because this is where I started my life. I will be representing my people in Rio. Maybe if I succeed, I can come back and conduct a race that can promote peace and bring people together."
Competing Women's 800m Friday, August 17
Popole Misenga, 24, from Democratic Republic of the Congo. Refugee in Brazil. Sport: Judo, Mens 90Kg.
He is originally from Bukavu, the worst affected area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1998 and 2003. His mother was killed and at just 9 years old, he was separated from his family. He hid in the jungle for eight days before he was resued and taken to the capital, Kinshasa. He has not seen his brothers in 15 years. He competed internationally for the DRC, but due to brutal training conditions, he sought asylum in Brazil. He fled during the 2013 World Judo Championships in Rio, where he now trains under coach Geraldo Bernardes at the Instituto Reação.
"I want to be part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team to keep dreaming, to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them. I want to show that refugees can do important things," Misenga says.
Competing in Judo, Men's 90 Kg, Wednesday, August 10
Yonas Kinde, 36, from Ethiopia. Refugee in Luxembourg. Sport: Athletics/ Marathon.
Before escaping to Luxembourg, he spent years in the wilderness. He finally fled his country in 2013 due to the difficult moral and ethical politics that made it very dangerous for him to remain. He has been living in Luxembourg for five years and been under special international protection for the past three years. Although he has won many races, without a nationality, he could not participate in the Olympic Games or the European Championships. In Germany, he blasted through a marathon in just two hours and 17 minutes. Now, he's competing in the biggest race of his life. When asked about running, he says "I can't explain the feeling, it has power, it's amazing."
Competing in Men's Marathon, Sunday August 21
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, 21, South Sudan. Refugee in Kenya. Sport: Athletics/ Women's 1500m.
At just six years old, she was forced to flee when the civil war reached to her village. Lohalith escaped to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, but she was separated from her parents and never saw them again. Growing up in the camp, she competed in many running competitions for fun while she was in school. In 2015, one of her teachers encouraged her to compete in a 10km race organized by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. Her speed got their attention and she has been training with them ever since. She is competing in the Olympics for her family - she hopes to return home a champion and reunite with her family.
"If I succeed I might earn some money to improve the life of my family. My dream is just to help my parents and help my father build a better house."
Competing in Women's 1500m, Friday, August 12
James Nyang Chiengjiek, 28, South Sudan. Refugee in Kenya. Sport: Athletics/Men's 400m
He fled his home in Bentiu, South Sudan at 13 years old to avoid being kidnapped by rebels. He traveled alone for thousands of miles to the Kakuma Refugee in 2002, where he received support from the UNHCR. In 2013, he was encouraged to try out for the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. His speed gained him a place in the foundation and he has been training with them ever since. He is competing so that one day he can help others.
"My dream is to get good results at the Olympics and also to help people. Because I have been supported by someone, I also want to support someone," says Chiengjiek,
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