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.”


Golf has big future in Saudi Arabia, says Prince Khalid

Updated 18 min 13 sec ago

Golf has big future in Saudi Arabia, says Prince Khalid

  • ‘There are many opportunities for Saudis to have a career in the golf industry’

JEDDAH: Prince Khalid bin Saud Al-Faisal has been visible in golf for as long as anyone can remember — even more so now in his role as adviser to the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

Arab News caught up with Prince Khalid on Saturday, and the lifelong golfer with a single-digit handicap talked about the future of golf and its potential as an industry in Saudi Arabia in the buildup to the Saudi International.

The European Tour event is taking place this week at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club with a star-studded field of 132 players vying for a prize fund of $3.5 million.

Prince Khalid said the two high-profile tournaments Saudi Arabia is hosting — the Saudi International and Saudi Ladies Championship in March — will show that golf can be a good career choice for women as well as men.

“There are many opportunities for Saudis to have a career in the golf industry. The golf industry encompasses hospitality, management, agronomy, real estate and a host of other professions as well as being a golf professional, both touring and teaching,” Prince Khalid said.

“With the ambitious plans for the Saudi game, supported by King Salman and with special support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, golf has a bright future, and should provide many job and career opportunities for Saudis, both male and female,” he said.

“With the support given to all sports by our leadership, Saudis now have the option to take up sports as a profession, and build a life and career out of it.

With the ambitious plans for the Saudi game, supported by King Salman and with special support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, golf has a bright future, and should provide many job and career opportunities for Saudis, both male and female.

Prince Khalid bin Saud Al-Faisal

“We have a national ladies team, alongside our junior and men’s teams, which is a wonderful development.

“The Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi under the direction of Yasir Al-Rumayyan and his right-hand man Majed Al-Sorour have developed wonderful plans for golf courses, academies, training programs and entertainment golf that will accelerate the spread of the sport in Saudi Arabia.”

“In addition to this, we have the professional men’s and ladies tournaments, and the prize money is an indication of the support given to golf,” Prince Khalid added.

The prince, son of the late Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal, thanked the crown prince for the support he has given to sports in general and to the “sport I live most in particular.”

Prince Khalid’s love affair with golf started late in his teen years.

“I started playing golf consistently when I was in my early 20s. Golf is a wonderful sport. It is one of the most difficult sports as well as one of the most rewarding, and can be played competitively and for fun with family and friends,” he said.