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The Refugee Olympic Team Showed They Have Plenty to Offer, in Spite of Tragic Stories

Capture d’écran de l'arrivée des athlètes réfugiés à la cérémonie d'ouverture des JO

Screenshot of the Refugee Olympic Team arriving at the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games have come to an end, and the results are out. Yet one of its greatest images — one that will remain etched in memories for a long time to come — was set apart from the photos capturing bursts of physical exertion in the city's top-class sporting venues. It is a mural paying tribute to the athletes of the Refugee Olympic Team in the streets of Rio:

These athletes had their own stories, their own particularly arduous individual journeys to Rio. By overcoming these challenges, they came to symbolise the Olympic spirit and its values which at times have been stained by acts of corruption, doping scandals and other controversies.

One of these stories is narrated in the following inspiring video:

A deafening standing ovation accompanied the arrival of the team which “came from afar” and launched this edition of the Games.

“The Pain is Beginning to Fade.”

One member of the team Yolande Mabika is from Bukavu in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like her teammate Popole Misenga, Yolande is a judoka.

Rebel fighters attacked her village when she was just eight-years-old, and she has not seen her family since that day. Yolande was taken in by a children's home in Kinshasa. Weary of repeated abuse at the hands of the Congolese federation, Yolande sought asylum in Brazil.

She recounts her story and her hopes for life after the Games:

Je pense encore au Congo, mais de moins en moins – cela fait maintenant partie du passé pour moi et je ne pense plus à ma famille tout le temps. Les souvenirs sont là mais la douleur a disparu. J’ai accepté le fait que je ne les (peut-etre) reverrai plus. Le Brésil est mon pays maintenant et je veux rester ici et construire une nouvelle vie… Je voudrais travailler auprès de jeunes filles comme moi qui n’ont pas eu de chance et les aider à surmonter le même type de problèmes que ceux que j’ai connus. Je ne m’arrêterai pas. Maintenant le monde entier sait que je suis une athlète olympique et je continuerai de m’entrainer pour être de plus en plus forte dans les combats à chaque compétition

I still think of Congo, but less and less – it is in the past for me now and I no longer think of my family all the time. The memories remain but the pain has gone. I have accepted the fact that I may never see them again. Brazil is my country now and I want to stay here and build a new life… I would like to work with young girls like myself who have not been dealt a good hand in life – I want to help them to overcome the same type of problems that I have faced. I won't stop. Now the whole world knows that I am an Olympic athlete and I will continue to train to be stronger and stronger in the fights of each competition.

“Never Give Up”

Yusra Mardini was born on March 5, 1998, in Damascus, Syria. Her story is well known but deserves telling again and again. In 2015, with her sister Sarah, two years older, she fled her war-torn homeland via Beirut, Istanbul and Izmir, before arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The boat which would bring them to the island broke down, the two sisters and a third woman, the only people amongst the 18 passengers on board who knew how to swim, took to the water to push and pull the boat for three hours until they reached safety.

She won her 100m heat at the Olympic Games, but the result was not sufficient to take her into the semi finals. Yusra stands out for her unfailing determination, demonstrated when she swam at sea for hours to bring the boat safely to shore.

Her German trainer explained her extraordinary strength of character:

Yusra est très concentrée. Elle a un but clair et organise toute sa vie autour. Ainsi, la jeune femme s’entraîne deux à trois heures chaque matin avant d’aller en cours et revient l’après-midi pour une autre session.

Yusra is very focused. She has a clear aim and organises her entire life around that aim. The young woman trains for two or three hours every morning before going to class and returns in the afternoon for another session.

Yusra is adamant about what she wants and how she will achieve her goals. She expects no handover and will not let anything stand in her way:

Je veux que tous les gens se battent pour leurs objectifs car si l’on reste concentré dessus, on fait tout ce que l’on peut pour y arriver, et je pense que même si j’échoue, j’essaierai encore. Peut-être que je serai triste, mais je ne le montrai pas et j’essaierai encore et encore jusqu’à ce que j’y arrive. Je veux montrer à tout le monde que s’il est difficile de réaliser ses rêves, ce n’est pas impossible

I want everyone to fight for their aims because, if we keep focused, we do everything that we can to get there, and I think that even if I fail, I will keep trying. Perhaps I will be sad but I won't show it and I will try again and again until I get there. I want to show the world that, although it's difficult to live your dreams, it's not impossible.

It is this determination to pull through that Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, championed when he lauded the team's passion which earned an outpouring of admiration beyond the usual patriotism displayed by Olympics fans:

It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit

Tegla Loroupe, the Kenyan runner, and mentor of the team stated that the team exuded something special and unifying:

Ils sont un modele à suivre pour les pauvres du monde entier, pas seulement les réfugiés. C’est pourquoi les gens les ont tant acclamés. C’est cette lutte face à d’immenses défis. Les sportifs de cette équipe, je les aime comme si ils étaient mes propres enfants.

They are a success story for poor people the world over, not just refugees. That is why they have been so acclaimed. It is this determination that they show against all odds. I love the athletes in this team as if they were my own children.

Read more of our special coverage: Joy, Disappointment and Injustice at the Rio Olympics

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