Having come to Rio 2016 with the aim of swimming faster than he has ever done before, Refugee Olympic Team swimmer Rami Anis did just that on 9 August, clocking a personal best in the men’s 100m freestyle to earn a standing ovation from the crowd at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. On 11 August he will hope to do the same in the 100m butterfly.
Anis’ time of 54.25 seconds left him 56th out of 59 swimmers in the 100m freestyle heats. He was never in the mix for the medals. But just being at the Games is a remarkable achievement for an athlete who, just over a year ago fled his native Syria and made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean and six European countries to escape the conflict in his country. He is now based in Belgium, together with his brother and father, hopeful that they will soon be joined by his mother.
“It's a wonderful feeling to compete in the Olympics,” he said. “It's a dream come true for me and I don't want to wake up from this dream.”
The Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) have drawn a massive following at the Games, not least Anis, who will be looking for another PB in the 100m butterfly on 11 August, alongside his hero Michael Phelps, who earlier this week extended his record Olympic gold medal tally to 21.
Anis is one of 10 athletes who make up the first ever ROT. They hail from Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia, but share a strong sense of their new collective identity. "We're all really proud to be part of this team,” says Anis. “It’s amazing to be in this team because we are representing people who have lost their homeland, who've had their homes burned, who were killed, and now we are representing them in a good way. It's an amazing feeling."
He says that the highlight of the Games so far has been the Opening Ceremony. “It was hard to describe. “The noise when the refugee team walked in, wow, they gave us such a big cheer.”
“My message is no-one has to give up on their dreams because life is about not giving up. I hope that every refugee athlete will get the same support as we have so they can achieve their dreams and achieve what we have achieved."
"It's a dream for every athlete to be in the Olympics and if I could go on and get a medal in Tokyo, this would truly be my dream come true."
However, for him, and his fellow ROT members, taking their place at the Olympic Games is not just about personal bests and medals, it is about flying the flag for refugees around the world. "I want to shine the spotlight on the plight of refugees,” he says. “I want to show the best possible image of refugees or Syrian people, or anyone who has suffered injustice in the world, and tell them to not lose hope -- never lose hope.”
“I hope at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there will be no refugees and we will be able to go back home. Nothing is nearer and dearer to my heart than my homeland."