Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini competes in a heat for the women’s 100m butterfly event during the swimming competition at the 2019 World Championships at Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center in Gwangju, South Korea, on July 21, 2019. (AFP/Oli Scarff)
Updated 21 July 2019

Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

  • Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall
  • Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics under the refugee flag

GWANGJU, South Korea: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.
Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1min 8.79sec in the 100 meters butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Thirty minutes into that treacherous journey, the motor on their dinghy cut out and the tiny vessel, carrying 20 people rather than the six or seven it was designed for, threatened to capsize.
As the only people who could swim, Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped into the water to push and pull the stricken dinghy for over three hours until they finally reached the shore.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the United Nations general assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“We were scared the whole time.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”


Boult, Southee rattle Sri Lanka in second Test

Updated 23 August 2019

Boult, Southee rattle Sri Lanka in second Test

  • Weather permitting, extended playing time is planned for the day after only 36.3 overs were possible on Thursday due to rain in the Sri Lankan capital

COLOMBO: Trent Boult and Tim Southee led New Zealand’s charge against Sri Lanka on day two of the rain-hit second Test on Friday, with the host skipper Dimuth Karunaratne’s offering resistance with a half-century.
Boult took two early wickets in one over after Sri Lanka resumed the day on 85 for two at Colombo’s P. Sara Oval, where the start was delayed due to a wet outfield.
Sri Lanka were 144 for six at lunch with Dhananjaya de Silva, on 32, and Dilruwan Perera, on five, at the crease.
Southee, like Boult, also delivered a double-wicket maiden as the duo put on a superb display of seam bowling under overcast conditions.
Boult got overnight batsman Angelo Mathews caught behind for two to reach a landmark of 250 Test wickets — only the third Kiwi bowler to achieve the feat.
He trapped Kusal Perera lbw for nought after just three balls as Sri Lanka slipped to 93-4 and would have been in further trouble had Boult held on to a simple catch from de Silva off his own bowling a few overs later.
Karunaratne also got a lifeline on 61 when Kane Williamson could not grab a tough chance at short mid-wicket off Ajaz Patel.
But the left-hander, who completed his 23rd Test fifty after resuming the day on 49, soon fell, caught behind off Southee for 65.
Southee struck again in the same over to send Niroshan Dickwella trudging back to the pavilion for nought.
Perera then played out the rest of the session with de Silva.
Medium-pace bowler Colin de Grandhomme and spinner William Somerville took a wicket each on the opening day after Sri Lanka elected to bat first.
Weather permitting, extended playing time is planned for the day after only 36.3 overs were possible on Thursday due to rain in the Sri Lankan capital.