The angst and ridicule of what state the Olympic park would be in, in the run up to Rio 2016 subsided as soon as the competitors took to the stage. Somehow every Games ends up a success- and that’s due to the amazing feats shown in every sporting discipline. The sport takes over; although a green diving pool was a glaring embarrassment that everyone was aware of! Whilst watching the Olympics I particularly love hearing about the interesting back stories of the athletes, such as the Syrian swimmer and Indian rower.
Yusra Mardini fled Damascus with her sister to flee the bombing of her hometown and could no longer train in swimming pools with bomb blasted roofs, not to mention she’d also lost her home. On the final leg of their journey to safety, they left the coast of Turkey in a motorboat designed for 6 but carrying 20. The boat failed just 30 minutes into the journey and Yusra, her sister and two others who could swim, got out of the boat and swam the open water for 3 hours holding the ropes of the boat and led it and its passengers to safety on the shore of Lesbos. She saved the lives of 19 people.
She and her sister found refuge in Germany and a coach spotted her potential for the Olympics 2020. However, she was able to enter Rio as part of a specially selected refugee team and made history swimming in the 100m Butterfly and Freestyle heats. An incredible story of overcoming adversity in its strongest sense and realising your dreams.
Another story which captured me was an Indian rower, Dattu Bhokanal, who until four years ago couldn’t even swim. Dattu comes from a drought-stricken village near the city of Nashik in India. When his father died in 2012, they were also experiencing a severe drought in his village affecting the farming community that his family were a part of. He felt the need to support his mother and siblings, so moved away to join the army. Due to his height, they said he’d make a good rower and here was his first introduction to water. He’d never seen a large body of water in his life; now he was in a small vessel, scared he may drown as he couldn’t swim – but with encouragement he could paddle the boat 3 months later, and was classed as a rower within a year.
He now says he has a strong affinity with the water and finished 13th overall in the Men’s Sculls event in Rio – the best ever Olympic performance by an Indian rower. A huge transition for him in a matter of just 4 years.
And to finish, I am full of wonder at how it must feel to be one half of a golden couple, namely Britain’s Laura Trott and Jason Kenny, who have 10 gold medals between them. I love their humility and lack of desire to seek fame; evident by their refusal to have their upcoming wedding featured in a magazine. May their marriage be as successful as their cycling careers.