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Yusra Mardini

Swimmer, Refugee Olympic Team & Goodwill Ambassador, UNHCR


Yusra Mardini is an Olympic swimmer and was a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Born in Damascus, Syria, in 1998, Mardini learned to swim with her father at age four, and by 2012, she had participated in the World Championships in Istanbul.

In the summer of 2015, Mardini’s life changed forever when she and her sister Sarah decided to flee the civil war in Syria, enduring a difficult and turbulent path to safety. During their journey toward Greece, the motor on their boat failed. Mardini, Sarah and two other refugees jumped into open water and swam through the sea for three hours, guiding the boat to the Greek island of Lesvos. Mardini and her fellow swimmers’ efforts prevented their small dinghy from capsizing, which saved the lives of the 20 people onboard. After reaching Europe, Mardini and her sister made their way to Berlin, Germany, where they found their new home and Mardini picked up her swimming training at the swimming club Wasserfreunde Spandau 04.

Her dream of participating in the Olympic Games came true with the Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio 2016 Games. In 2017, Mardini was appointed the youngest-ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. As Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Mardini advocates for the more than 65 million refugees around the world, promotes understanding of their stories and determination and helps prove that every refugee is a human being first.

Butterfly, Mardini’s autobiography that tells her inspiring young-life story, was published in May 2018. Today, she continues to train for her next goal: competing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.


The speakers

Using the unique power of sport to bring people together, the Olympism in Action Forum sees a range of global players, including Olympic Movement stakeholders, athletes, private and public sector leaders, NGO representatives, academics, artists and the media come together to talk on topical contemporary issues. Chosen because of their ability to effect change and their wide range of sometimes differing opinions, the speakers will lead lively debates and seek to challenge received wisdom to inspire new ways of thinking.

Meet the speakers.
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