The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Tuesday that it had named 29 athletes to the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Refugee Team – a team comprised of athletes who have been forced to flee their home countries due to war and conflict, but have still managed to compete at a high level. The team was selected out of a group of 55 athletes from 13 countries who were given IOC scholarships, and will include seven sprinters, middle- and long-distance runners. Now, they have been given the opportunity to test themselves on the Olympic stage.
Different journey. Same dream.
— Refugee Olympic Team (@RefugeesOlympic) June 8, 2021
This will only be the second time a refugee team has been represented at the Olympics. The 2016 Games in Rio saw a team of 10 athletes compete on the first-ever refugee team, and this year’s group is nearly three times as large. Many of these athletes have spent significant portions of their lives in refugee camps, where they have not had the same opportunities as their competitors. Unable to compete for their home countries, the refugee team gives them a chance to realize their Olympic dreams.
Seven out of the 29 athletes named to the team are runners, including four who were a part of the 2016 Refugee team in Rio. One of those athletes is 1,500m runner Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, who says her main motivation to be successful is to one day be reunited with her parents, whom she hasn’t seen since 2002, after fleeing to Kenya from South Sudan.
“If I go far and [have] success, then my dream is just only to help my parents,” she told olympics.com.
They will bring awareness to the plight of 80m+ displaced people worldwide.
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) June 8, 2021
10,000m runner Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed, who fled western Sudan on foot to Isreal as a teenager, says that his early experiences have made him a stronger athlete. “When you see terrible things happen to you at a young age – things that are really much harder than what you might be going through at the moment – and you made it through them, it makes it easier to overcome obstacles. You know you’ll get through these things too,” he said.
One of the most exciting athletes on the Refugee Team is 23-year-old Tachlowini Gabriyesos, who ran 2:10:55 in only his second marathon ever, and was the first refugee to run an Olympic qualifying time in his event. Gabriyesos has competed in several distances from the 3,000m to the half-marathon, and has only just started his marathon career. Like his teammates, he hopes to be an inspiration to others who are coming from difficult situations.
“The Olympics is my dream as a professional athlete and it would be a great honour to be part of the [IOC] Refugee Olympic Team,” he said to worldathletics.org. “I want to show others that everything is possible and they shouldn’t give up.”