Syrian teen refugee sets sights on Rio Olympics

Yusra Mardini, 18-year-old Syrian, is setting her sights on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

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Syrian teenager Yusra Mardini has faced obstacles as a refugee from a war-torn country that most people cannot even begin to imagine and now she wants to go the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The 18-year-old swimmer trekked across Turkey, made the treacherous sea crossing by boat to the Greek island of Lesbos and gradually weaved her way through most of central Europe with her sister before arriving in Berlin in 2015.

She is now part of a group of 43 hand-picked refugees who have been identified by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as potential Olympians and are being supported on their road to qualification.

“I want all refugees to be proud of me, I want to encourage them that even if we are not in our homeland and had a tough way that we can still do great things,” Mardini said, looking very much at ease in front of dozens of cameras and reporters.

“It is hard to leave your home , very hard,” Mardini said during a break from training at the swim club Wasserfreunde Spandau 04.
“Our house was destroyed, we did not have anything any more and we ran away.”

She swam part of the crossing over to Greece, helping other refugees who were in the water and could not swim.

“We were thinking with my sister when were in the boat, it would be a shame if we did not help them so we got into the water and helped them. It was a really tough experience.”

Berlin team

A competitive swimmer back in Syria, Mardini, who is about seven seconds off the qualification time she needs for the 200 meters freestyle in Rio, looked for a club as soon as she arrived in Berlin.

After checking out her level, Wasserfreunde Spandau took her in and Mardini has never looked back, now busy shaving seconds off her personal best in a pool originally built for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

“I want to go to the Olympics. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” she said with a big grin and confidence to match.

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