Rio 2016: Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini hopes to 'open the world's eyes' to plight of world's misplaced

Mardini and her refugee teammates have transcended sport at these Games

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The Independent Online

The swimmer who has been the inspiration of the Rio Games – the Syrian Olympic Refugee Team’s Yusra Mardini - said as she bowed out of competition that she believed she had helped open the world’s eyes to the plight of the displaced and homeless.

Mardini was the seventh swimmer to finish in her heat of the 100m freestyle but what she has represented here has transcended sport. The swimmers from three other heats had also walked through the athlete/media mixed zone by the time she had answered all the questions put to her.

To the question of whether the Refugee Team’s contribution could open minds to the needs of those seeking sanctuary from conflict in western Europe, Mardini said: “Absolutely, absolutely yes because this team is amazing and there are all the colours, all the countries all the nations and yes this is amazing.”

Her patience with those who wanted a slice of the phenomenon she has represented was boundless. Serbian journalists were asking her to say: “Hello Serbia” to the camera before she left. Such has been the impact of the story of an 18-year-old who, while fleeing war-torn Damascus, was in an overloaded boat which capsized during the crossing to Turkey. She, her sister and two others jumped into the water and swam for three hours, pushing and pulling the boat until it reached the shore.

Mardini, who found sanctuary in Germany, said she wanted to combine swimming with the fight for recognition of refugees. "There are a lot of stories about me and a lot of people want to take a picture," she said. "This is really good, because it is helping to send our message to the world, and show everyone that refugees can do something. The only things are I know now are that I want to continue swimming and continue supporting refugees.”

Walking out for the Opening Ceremony will be the abiding memory of her journey here, Mardini said. "I was so proud and happy that everyone was cheering for us," she said. "I just felt like dancing. I don't know how to dance samba, but maybe I'm going to learn. (Syrian) dancing depends on your hips and your stomach. You have to be a really good (butter) fly swimmer to do it.”