Rio 2016: Refugee athlete Yusra Mardini becomes Olympic favourite after winning swimming heat

Mardini won her 100-metre butterfly heat but failed to qualify for the semi-finals

Olivia Blair@livblair
Sunday 07 August 2016 12:40

Only two days into the Rio Olympics and one athlete has already captured the hearts of viewers around the world and become a standout star of the games.

On Saturday, Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee now based in Germany, stormed to win her women’s 100-metre butterfly heat but failed to qualify for the semi-finals.

Despite this, the swimmer received roaring cheers and applause from poolside spectators while congratulatory messages and praise poured in on social media from around the world.

The 18-year-old was the first competitor to represent the refugee team, a team of 10 athletes who have all faced remarkable obstacles in their personal journeys to Rio.

After the race, Mardini only had positive things to say about her experience in Rio so far.

“Everything was amazing,” she said. “It was the only thing I ever wanted, to compete in the Olympics. I had a good feeling in the water so I’m happy for that. Competing with all these great champions is exciting."

Mardini finished 41st overall with a time of 1 minute 9.21 seconds. The winner of the heats, Swedish swimmer Sarah Sjostrom, finished the heat in 56.26 seconds.

Mardini was a competitive swimmer in Damascus but fled the war-torn country with her sister and travelled through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece.

Yusra Mardini: Olympic Syrian refugee who swam for three hours in sea

She and her sister Sarah were travelling on a dinghy when it began sinking in the Aegean sea. They jumped off the sinking dinghy and swam for three hours helping to save the lives of 20 people.

Mardini will return to the Aquatics centre on Wednesday for the 100-metre freestyle.

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