search slide
search slide
pages bottom

Here's how Team Refugees fared at the Olympics

The Rio 2016 Summer Olympics are done and, amidst all the buzz about Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and, yes, Ryan Lochte, we don't want to overlook one storyline that's truly deserving of the attention: the first-ever team of refugees.

It was a feel-good story that came out of the worldwide strife that forced these athletes to become refugees in the first place. Take, for instance, swimmer Yusra Mardini, who saved 20 people when the boat they were traveling in while fleeing Syria began to sink in the Aegean Sea. Her story trumps anything she could accomplish in Rio.

And they were undoubtedly among the heroes of this Olympics, no matter where they finished in the standings. They amassed a huge following on social media, Pope Francis wrote them a letter of encouragement, and a huge mural was painted in Rio to honor the team. 

Yet, they were still there to compete. After their much-celebrated appearance at the opening ceremony, there was still business to take care of. 

So how did they fare? 

Let's start with Mardini, who finished seventh in her 100-meter freestyle preliminary heat and then won her 100-meter butterfly preliminary heat. She didn't advance to the semifinal heats in either event but is setting her sights on Tokyo 2020 and told the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was an amazing feeling in the water. I was really proud and happy.”

Fellow swimmer Rami Anis also missed out on the medal rounds in his events, finishing sixth in his 100-meter freestyle preliminary heat and finishing eighth in his 100-meter butterfly preliminary heat. But that 100-meter freestyle finish was a personal best and, like Mardini, he's looking forward to 2020, saying that, in Tokyo, “I hope I will be able to swim under my own flag.”

Of the 10 members of Team Refugees, six of them were involved with running events (or, as the IOC generically referred to them, "Athletics"). Yonas Kinde finished well out of medal placing in the men's marathon but still completed the difficult course in 2:24:08. Afterward, speaking to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, he focused on the overall mission of his participation:

James Nyang Chiengjiek finished eighth in his 400-meter run heat with a time of 52.89 seconds. It wasn't enough to qualify for the next round, but Chiengjiek, of Sudan, said after his race, “It is so important for us to be here. This is for spreading peace. I thank the IOC for giving us this chance.”

Yiech Pur Biel finished eighth in his heat for the mens 800-meter run with a time of 1:54.67 while Rose Nathike Lokonyen, who carried the flag for the team at the opening ceremony, finished seventh in her heat for the womens 800-meter run with a time of 2:16.64. While neither advanced, feelings were still upbeat. 

Said Biel, "Even if I will not get the gold or silver, I will show the world that being a refugee, you can do something.”

Anjelina Nadai Lohalith finished last in her heat in the women's 1,500-meter run with a time of 4:47.38 but sounded joyful at the end of her experience. Talking to ESPN, she said, "Even though I came in last, I'm happy." 

Paulo Amotun, running in the men's 1,500-meter race, finished 11th in his heat with a time of 4:03.96 but was all smiles on the track. 

Yolande Bukasa lost to Israel's Linda Bolder in her first match of the women's 70kg judo competition. But, afterward, she was upbeat about her performance and her place in history, saying, "When I'm older, people will see my name in the books about Rio."

Popole Misenga had a great start in the men's 90kg judo competition, earning a bye in the round of 64 and defeating India's Avtar Singh in the round of 32. After that match, he told the UNHCR, "I thought that nobody would cheer me. Then I saw that the whole of Brazil was supporting me. I got emotional. I felt something coming from inside: I needed to win that first fight. And I won."

Popole fell in his round of 16 match against Donghan Gwak, the top-seeded athlete in the competition, but won over the hearts of fans and his teammates, as he was selected to carry the flag in the closing ceremony. 

Leave a Reply

Captcha image