By:New York Times. August 3, 2016
Yusra Mardini is a Syrian swimmer currently living in Berlin, Germany. She was a member of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team (ROT), that competed under the Olympic flag at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.On 27 April 2017, Mardini was appointed a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
Growing up in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus,Mardini trained in swimming with the support of the Syrian Olympic Committee.In 2012, she represented Syria in the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships (25 m) 200 metre individual medley, 200 metre freestyle and 400 metre freestyle events.
Mardini’s house was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War. Mardini and her sister Sarah decided to flee Syria in August 2015. They reached Lebanon, and then Turkey, where they arranged to be smuggled into Greece by boat with 18 other migrants, though the boat was meant to be used by no more than 6 or 7 people. After the motor stopped working and the dinghy began to take on water in the Aegean Sea, Yusra, her sister, Sara, and two other people who were able to swimgot into the water and treaded water for over 3 hours until the engine started working again, and the group reached Lesbos. They then traveled through Europe to Germany, where they settled in Berlin in September 2015. Her parents also fled Syria and live in Germany.
On arrival in Germany, Mardini continued her training with her coach Sven Spannenkrebs from Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 in Berlin, in hopes of qualifying for the Olympics. She attempted to qualify in the 200 metres freestyle swimming event. In June 2016, Mardini was one of ten athletes selected for the ROT.Mardini competed in the 100 metres freestyle and the 100 metres butterfly at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.At the Rio Olympics, Mardini won a 100m butterfly heat against four other swimmers, with a time of 1:09.21 and a rank of 41st among 45 entrants.
IOC President Thomas Bach said of the refugee athletes, “We help them to make their dream of sporting excellence come true, even when they have to flee war and violence.”
Yusra Mardini’s story is told in the short story collection Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. The story is illustrated by JM Cooper, and when the story was released as a podcast episode it was narrated by American journalist and long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. On 3rd of May 2018, the autobiography “Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph” by Yusra Mardini was published.It is planned that director Stephen Daldry will make a movie about her life.