Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini wins heat but won't advance at Rio Games

Published 06.08.2016 21:03
Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini wins heat but won't advance at Rio Games

Swimmer Yusra Mardini of the refugee team competing under the Olympic flag at the Rio Games won her preliminary heat in the 100-meter butterfly.

However, that result wasn't fast enough to advance Mardini to the semifinals on Saturday. Her time of 1 minute, 9.21 seconds was 41st overall.

The top 16 swimmers moved on to the late-night semifinals. By comparison, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden had the top qualifying time of 56.26 seconds.

Mardini was a competitive swimmer in Syria until she left Damascus with her sister a year ago and settled in Berlin.

The teenager was not reluctant to talk about her swim in the 100-meter butterfly heats but was simply being moved to a different area to conduct her interviews - the result of dozens of pursuing the 18-year-old down along the corridor would likely have appeared comical to outsiders.

"It was really amazing, it was an incredible feeling to compete here at the Olympics," Mardini said when the chaos eventually settled a little.

Mardini was never likely to survive the heats of the event but her time of 1 minute 9.21 seconds was nearly half a second slower than her qualifying time.

She briefly appeared a little disappointed walking towards the journalists and refugee team media representative Sophie Edington - herself a former elite swimmer with a host of medals to her name - placed a consoling arm around her shoulder.

But there is a reason Mardini is widely considered the face of the 10-strong refugee team and so highly in demand.

After two years out of swimming when she fled her native Syria for Germany, she simply acknowledged, in near flawless American English, she was "working to get back to my level," with her Berlin club Wasserfreunde Spandau.

The Wasserfreunde (water-friends) were thanked for their help and told "they're in my heart," but for now the immediate focus is on Mardini's other event, the 100m freestyle.

"I'm really excited," Mardini said of the next competition on Wednesday.

Mardini hopes to hit her best in that event but even if it does not work out, she is better placed than most to keep sporting failures in perspective.

On fleeing Syria, Mardini and her sister jumped into the water to push their sinking boat to safety and, understandably, the pressures of competing at the Olympics and dealing with the media are "not difficult" in comparison.

"I'm really happy to be here and see all the champions here," she concluded of her time in Rio so far.

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