A home away from home
There is Michael Phelps. There is Usain Bolt. Kohei Uchimura. Katinka Hosszu. Katie Ledecky... And then there is Yusra Mardani and Rami Anis.
Mardani or Anis might not quite fit into the category of the formers as far as sporting excellence is concerned, but that does not stop them from being some of the most sought-after personalities of the Rio OIympics. They are in the limelight because they come with a back story that is uplifting and worth being told again and again. That story goes right along the lines of the spirit of the Olympics and fits with those of Phelps and Bolt and the like.
Mardani's story starts in war-torn Damascus where she used to be a top swimmer and a sure bet for the Syrian Olympic team this year. But the war forced her to flee the country along with her sister one night a year ago. The two crossed over to Turkey and boarded a dinghy in the dead of night with 18 other people and set off for the Greek Island of Lesbos.
But they had hardly gone a few hundred metres before the motor of the boat stopped and the boat threatened to capsize. Mardani, her sister and two other people who knew how to swim, got into water and pushed it all the way to the shore. From there they crossed boundaries before finally arriving in Berlin.
In Berlin Yusra found a coach who was willing to give everything to make her dream come true. She trained painstakingly under the coach, and now she is part of the 10-man Refugees Olympic Team, formed by the International Olympic Committee for the first time this year.
Rami Anis, from Aleppo, has a similar story of a treacherous journey to Turkey before getting to Belgium.
Anis and Mardani are not alone in this. There are hundreds of thousands like them all over the world who have fled persecution, war and hunger in search of a safe and secured life, each carrying a unique and compelling story. 10 of these refugees have been selected by the International Olympic Committee to represent a Refugees Olympic Team.
None of those 10 have set the Games on fire with either their skill or timing, but they have been welcomed wholeheartedly by all and sundry. They were received with raucous applause by the crowd in the Games' opening march-past. And they are being cheered in whichever event they are taking part.
Mardani, now far away from the horrors of war, says the whole experience has been surreal. "There are a lot of people from other countries who are not even refugees. They tell me that I have a reason after I saw your story and the other refugees' stories to continue and to help my mum or something. This was really amazing; this is what keeps motivating me now," the 18-year-old swimmer told media on Friday.
Anis summed up what participation in the Olympics means to them and the many like them who have found something to cling to. "It will give hope to millions of refugees. It will also give a message to all refugees not to disappear."