Rose Nathike and Yiech Pur Biel: Olympic refugee runners ran barefoot because they didn’t have shoes

'Some of us were running without shoes, like me, I was running barefoot. We ran 10km and I became the number two'

 

Olympic refugee ran barefoot in trials because she didn’t have shoes

Each Olympian on the refugee team arrived at the Olympic village with remarkable stories. Their journey to Rio 2016 involved more than just talent: they arrived in Brazil with tales of survival in the most perilous situations.

Rose Nathike Lokonyen qualified as a runner for the Olympic team for the women’s 800-metre.

Lokonyen, 23, fled civil war in Sudan as a child and grew up Kakuma, a north Kenyan refugee camp holding more than 180,000 displaced people. It was here that she began running without a trainer, running gear or shoes.

Rose Nathike Lokonyen is one of five runners on the refugee Olympic team

Her road to the Olympics began when she was scouted by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2015 after coming second in a 10-kilometre race.

Lokonyen told journalists: “It was just a competition, we competed among the refugees. Some of us were running without shoes, like me, I was running barefoot. We ran 10km and I became the number two.”

She now trains with Tegla Loroupe, a world-record holder, and four other refugees from Sudan.

Yiech Pur Biel fled Sudan 10 years ago, losing his parents as he attempted to escape the violence and eventually settling at the same refugee camp alone. He only started running competitively a year ago and did not own a pair of running shoes.

Yiech Pur Biel, a runner from South Sudan

“Most of us face a lot of challenges,” says Biel. “In the refugee camp, we have no facilities – even shoes we don’t have. There is no gym. Even the weather does not favour training because from morning up to the evening it is so hot and sunny.”

Fellow runner Paulo Amotun Lokoro’s experience echoes Biel's. The Sudanese runner is also training under Loroupe in Nairobi. “Before I came here I did not even have training shoes,” he told the UN Refugee Agency. “Now we have trained and trained, until we see ourselves at a good level, and now we know fully how to be athletes.”

The full list of athletes below:

Rami Anis (M): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Belgium; sport – swimming

Yiech Pur Biel (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

James Nyang Chiengjiek (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 400m

Yonas Kinde (M): Country of origin – Ethiopia; host NOC – Luxembourg; sport – athletics, marathon

Anjelina Nada Lohalith (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

Rose Nathike Lokonyen (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m

Paulo Amotun Lokoro (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m

Yolande Bukasa Mabika (F): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -70kg

Yusra Mardini (F): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming

Popole Misenga (M): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -90kg

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