Sports

From war-torn Syria to Rio

Yusra Mardini, the teenager who braved a Mediterranean crossing in a leaky dinghy to flee war-torn Syria, won her 100 metres butterfly heat in Rio de Janeiro yesterday morning (Singapore time) to cap an "amazing" Olympic experience.

"Everything was amazing. The only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics," said the 18-year-old, who is representing the first-ever Olympic Refugee Team.

"I had a good feeling in the water so I'm happy for that."

Mardini attended Saturday morning's opening ceremony, but didn't stay till the end because she wanted to be ready for her race.

She touched the wall in 1min 09.21sec, just off her entry time of 1:08.51.

"I've been back swimming for only two years so we're only now getting back to my levels of before. But I'm pleased," added Mardini, who has settled in Germany with her family.

Less than a year ago, she found herself swimming for her life when the crowded dinghy headed for the Greek island of Lesbos suffered engine failure. She and her sister jumped into the water and used a rope to tow the boat to safety.

Although she was 41st fastest in an event led by world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom's 56.26sec and didn't qualify for the semi-finals, Mardini said it was a thrill to line up against the world's best.

"It's an incredible feeling and I'm happy to see all the great swimmers here," she said.

"Competing with all these great champions is exciting."

In March, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced he would choose five to 10 refugee athletes to compete at the Games.

One other swimmer, Rami Anis, also originally from Syria, will compete in the men's 100m butterfly. Mardini is also entered in the 100m freestyle.

Each refugee athlete is being hosted by a national Olympic committee. Mardini is being hosted by Germany, while Anis is being hosted by Belgium.

Six refugee athletes are competing in athletics and two in judo. - AFP.

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