Refugee swimmer wins hearts at Rio Olympics

A Syrian refugee who won her heat in the 100 metres butterfly at the Olympics in Rio swam pulling a boat full of 20 people in the ocean between Turkey and Greece when fleeing her home country last year.

Yusra Mardini, 18, fled Damascus in Syria with her sister Sarah almost a year ago and travelled through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece in a boat made for six people but carrying 20.

After the motor on the boat failed, the Mardini sisters and another woman jumped into the water and swam for three and a half hours, pulling the boat and stopping it from capsizing before reaching the island of Lesbos.

The group then continued their 1,000 mile journey from Greece on foot, by train and by bus, before eventually arriving in Germany. She was given asylum in Berlin, where her swimming talents were spotted, leading to her being the first member of a 10-strong refugee team to compete in Brazil on Saturday.

Although her time of one minute 09.21 seconds was not enough to see her through to the semi-finals, she has won hearts in Rio and become one of the most celebrated stories of the Games.

"Everything was amazing," Mardini said. "It was the only thing I ever wanted was to compete in the Olympics. I had a good feeling in the water so I'm happy for that. Competing with all these great champions is exciting." Mardini, who swam as a child and is the daughter of a swimming coach, added: "I've only been back swimming for two years so we're only now getting back to my levels of before. But I'm pleased."

Mardini, who will take part in the 100m freestyle heat on Wednesday, is already looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 as her best chance of a medal. "It's a different life in the water,' said Mardini, who has a fear of open water after her experience last year. "You throw all of your problems out. It's a different world to me."

Mardini described visiting the world famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio as "breathtaking".

"Maybe I'm going to die on the way," she told BBC World Service when discussing her decision to leave Syria. "But I'm almost dead in my country. I can't do anything."