August 10, 2016: Most spectators had never heard of him. And he fell a long way short of qualifying for the 100-metre freestyle swimming semi-finals at the Rio Olympics.
Even so, Rami Anis was afforded a raucous, spine-tingling ovation by an appreciative crowd after his heat at Rio’s Aquatics Centre on Tuesday, August 9, reports Xinhua.
Five years ago, Anis and his family were forced to flee Aleppo in war-torn Syria, relocating to Istanbul. But a lack of work opportunities and his inability to work with Turkey’s top swimming coaches prompted him to move to Belgium with his younger brother.
The brothers embarked on a 10-day overland journey to Ghent, in Belgium.
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There, he began training under former Olympian Carine Verbauwen, who set out a gruelling 17-hour-a-week programme for her pupil.
The hard work paid off and in June Anis was selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to represent the first ever refugee team in Rio.
His time of 54.25 seconds on Tuesday was a personal best that secured him only the 56th position men’s 100m freestyle heats, but that mattered little to the adoring public.
“It’s wonderful to be the star of an event like this, at which refugees have drawn so much attention,” the 25-year-old said after the event on Tuesday.
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“I was a little scared and tense before the race, but at the same time I always knew that this event was the preparation for my specialty, which is the 100m butterfly.”
His focus is already on the 2020 Tokyo Games, where he says he will be in better physical condition.
“I want to send the best possible image of refugees, of Syrians, of everyone who suffers injustice in the world. I want to tell them not to give up, to keep going,” he added. (IANS)
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