In less than a week, athletes from across the globe will convene in Tokyo for the 2021 Olympics. And for the second time ever, the Games will feature a refugee team, set to include seven runners out of a total of 29 athletes, which is noticeably larger than the 10 refugee athletes who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In 2014, Tegla Loroupe, who competed at the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics, and was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon in 1994, petitioned the International Olympic Committee to create the refugee team in time for the 2016 Olympics. She was successful and went on to become the team’s Chef de Mission. Loroupe was no stranger to the athletic potential refugees could bring, as she’d been promoting peace through sport through the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, which she created in 2003.
The 2021 Refugee Olympic team athletes come from 11 countries—Afghanistan, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, the Republic of Congo and Venezuela. The team will march with the Olympic flag in second position during the Opening Ceremony, immediately after Greece.
With the 2020 Olympics postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that members of the potential refugee team faced challenges as well. Many of the athletes train in Kenya and live at the Kakuma refugee camp, and the Kenyan government shut down sport camps, including the Tegla Loroupe Sports Training Centre in Ngong. Athletes also had concerns about contracting COVID back at the Kakuma refugee camp, where social distancing wasn’t feasible.
But Loroupe’s training center eventually reopened, allowing for the runners to resume their training; Loroupe coaches four of the seven runners who are part of the mix (two men and two women) and currently living in Kenya. (The other three male runners are based in Israel and Portugal.) Loroupe was set to travel to Tokyo with the team as the Chef de Mission, but according to the Associated Press, she reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
The Refugee Olympic team was created to instill a message of hope and solidarity, while raising awareness of the challenges faced by the more than 80 million displaced people worldwide. But that doesn’t mean the team is free of its own conflict. According to this story by Time, six runners who trained at Loroupe’s camp in Kenya defected from the team between 2017 and 2019, because of rising tensions over the opportunities and money provided to them, to name a few of the issues. As a result, they were not allowed to be a part of the 2021 Olympic Refugee team.
There’s no doubt that all of the members of the Olympic Refugee team have been through unimaginable challenges, and participating in the Games is sure to provide them a life experience like no other. Read on to learn more about the runners competing on the team in events ranging from the 100 meters to the marathon.
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith
Lohalith, 28, is racing the 1,500 meters in Tokyo. She arrived at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya with her aunt in 2002 after escaping war-torn South Sudan., and went on to compete as a runner in high school, eventually competing in a 10K run organized by Loroupe’s foundation in 2015.
Her impressive results led her to train with the foundation afterward, in addition to later being selected to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She also competed at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London as part of the World Athletics refugee team, running a personal best of 4:33.54 in the 1,500 meters.
“[I am] competing in the Olympic Games as a refugee to bring a good message to all over the world and help peace to be created and show that we’re human beings who can do better [as well],” Lohalith said in a video news release.
Keletela, 22, is racing the 100 meters in Tokyo. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came to Portugal at age 17 in 2016 with his aunt after losing both of his parents to conflict in Congo. In addition to currently training at Sporting Clube de Portugal, Keletela is mentored by Francis Obikwelu, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist in the 100 meters.
Keletela started running at age 15 and currently trains three hours a day, six days a week. He ran a 6.49-second 60 meters in February 2020, then a 10.46-second 100 meters in August 2020. He hopes to one day best Obikwelu’s 9.86 seconds set in the Athens Olympic final won by Justin Gatlin, which is both the Portuguese national record and joint European record with Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut.
“What I want people to know about me is that I am a determined person who never gives up and follows his dreams,” Keletela recently told the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Facebook. “My motto in life is to move forward with faith, determination, courage, patience, and perseverance.”
Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed
Mohammed, 25, is racing the 5,000 meters in Tokyo. He fled his home in Darfur, Sudan, as a teenager after his father was killed in the war, leaving his mother and siblings behind as he traveled through Egypt and the Sinai Desert before arriving in Israel, where he was granted refugee protection. Once there, the Alley Runners Club, a sports club in Tel Aviv that provides opportunities to underprivileged children, helped Mohammed get acquainted with the track, in addition to teaching him Hebrew as he settled into his new country.
Mohammed earned an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship in 2017, which allowed him to train full time and take part in the 2019 World Cross Country Championships. He was also one of six members of the Athlete Refugee Team at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, which took place later that year.
Mohammed has been able to remain active throughout the pandemic, running in races from 1,500 meters to 10 kilometers on the road over the past year and a half leading up to Tokyo. The postponement also inspired him to give back to the Alley Runners club, and after completing his studies in sports massage last year, he now performs massage therapy at the club.
“The Olympics are every athlete’s dream, and it would mean a lot to me to represent the refugee team,” Mohammed said in a video news release. “I’ve learned a lot from competitions, injuries, and mistakes I’ve made … and my message to other refugee athletes is to not give up, to believe in themselves, and to do the best they can.”
James Nyang Chiengjiek
Chiengjiek, 29, who competed at the Rio Olympics, is racing the 400 meters in Tokyo. Originally from Bentiu, South Sudan, Chiengjiek lost his father, a soldier, in 1999 in the war. He escaped from South Sudan when the war broke out due to the risk of being forced to participate in the war by the army. He arrived at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp in 2002 before starting school and taking up running. He eventually participated in a selection process to join the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2013, where he has been training ever since.
After being named to the inaugural Refugee Olympic Team for the Rio Olympics, Chiengjiek finished eighth in his 400m heat in a time of 52.89 seconds. He went on to represent World Athletics’ Athlete Refugee Team (ART) in 2019 at the IAAF World Relays, where he finished seventh in the mixed 2 x 2 x 400 meters relay event.
“When the IOC and [Loroupe] came up with this wonderful idea, it gave us hope,” Chiengjiek said in a video news release. “Now refugees around the world can know that sport can change their lives.”
Paulo Amotun Lokoro
Lokoro, 29, who competed at the Rio Olympics, is racing the 1,500 meters in Tokyo. He arrived at Kenya’s Kakuma camp in 2006 after escaping the war in South Sudan and joining his mother, who had been at the camp since 2004. While there, he participated in many sports after starting school, eventually joining Loroupe’s foundation and competing for the refugee team at the Rio Olympic Games.
Post-Rio, Lokoro also represented refugees at other international events, including the 5th Asian Indoor Games in 2017, the 2018 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, the 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championships, and the 2019 UNICEF Harmony Marathon in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We need refugees to know they can do anything, and that they can inspire the next generation,” Lokoro said in a video news release. “You need to feel free and have peace in your mind … When you have discipline and respect your culture, you can achieve something from it.”
Rose Nathike Likonyen
Likonyen, 26, who competed at the Rio Olympics, is racing the 800 meters in Tokyo. After she and family fled the war in South Sudan, they arrived at the Kakuma camp in 2002. While in school, she began competing as a runner and in 2015, she took part in a 10K organized by Loroupe’s foundation. She continued to train with the foundation and was selected for the refugee Olympic team for the Rio Games, where she also served as the flag bearer.
“When we marched into the stadium, people of all nationalities were cheering for the refugees, and [we felt happiness] since it was our first time. And when they cheered [for] us, we felt like we were human beings like others,” Likonyen said in a video news release. “Being a refugee is not a choice, and refugees are people who flee from their countries, so for us it’s very important to give the message to others that they may not lose hope in life … because anyone can change his or her life through sport.”
Following the 2016 Games, Likonyen also represented the Athlete Refugee Team at the 2017 World Relays Championships in Yokohama, Japan.
Gabriyesos, 23, is racing the marathon in Tokyo. After fleeing Eritrea at age 12, he spent time in Ethiopia and Sudan before making the long and perilous journey across Egypt’s Sinai Desert to arrive in Israel. He was eventually sent to school in Hadera, where he met his running coach.
He now lives and trains in Tel Aviv where he runs with the Emek Hefer Club and is supported by an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship. He was selected as one of six athletes to compete for the Refugee Team at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, but dealt with a mishap due to a visa issue during a travel layover in Istanbul. While it did affect his race preparation, Gabriyesos still managed to run 14:28.11 in the 5,000 meters in the Doha heat, just 13 seconds off of his personal best of 14:15.05 set earlier that year. He was also set to participate in the 2020 World Athletics Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland, but visa issues prevented him from traveling to the event. Two months later, however, Gabriyesos set a new half-marathon personal best of 1:02:21.
In 2020 and 2021 alone, Gabriyesos has also competed in distance events including the 3,000 meters, 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, half marathon, and marathon, making a steady progression to the longer distances. While the visa issues and stressors brought on by the pandemic have been difficult, Gabriyesos hasn’t let them stand in the way of his goals and progress, telling World Athletics in May that he believes he’s in better shape than he was a year ago. In March, he ran a 2:10:55 marathon at Hula Lake Park in Israel, becoming the first refugee athlete to go under an Olympic qualifying standard in only his second time racing the distance.
“The Olympics is my dream as a professional athlete, and it would be a great honor to be part of the [IOC] Refugee Olympic Team,” he said. “I want to show others that everything is possible and they shouldn’t give up.”
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Source link : https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a36999707/refugee-olympic-team-runners-2021/
Publish date : 2021-07-19 22:51:34