TOKYO, Japan — A swimmer who fled Syria as a teen is among the 29 athletes competing on the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) in Tokyo this summer.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says 23-year-old Yusra Mardini escaped the Syrian capital of Damascus with her sister in August of 2015 and she now resides in Berlin, Germany.
Prior to the war in Syria, Mardini was a competitive swimmer who represented her country in international competitions.
“Me and my older sister decided because of war we weren’t safe. You went to school sometimes and there were bombings. In the pool there were also bombings," she told the IOC.
Since fleeing Syria, she has been training at the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 club, which is a partner of the Elite Schools of Sport in Berlin.
Mardini was one of the first members of the ROT when it was created by the IOC before the 2016 Olympics in Rio as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide.
In Tokyo, she competed in the women’s 100-meter butterfly race over the weekend. She finished third place in her heat, but she didn’t move forward because only the top 16 swimmers of 33 qualified for the semi-finals.
Though she didn’t earn a medal, that wasn’t her only goal at the Olympics. The IOC says Mardini’s mission is to help others better understand the plight of refugees, that what they are ultimately seeking is safety and opportunity.
Mardini’s experience at the Olympics is a bit different than that of other athletes. Because she doesn’t compete for one country, she feels she represents the “whole wide world,” she told the IOC.
Along with her work in the pool, Mardini became the youngest person ever to be appointed as a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017.