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NEWS FEATURE Former world record holder Loroupe back at Olympics with Refugee Team By Derek Wilson, dpa

Europe
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Kenya‘s Tegla Loroupe enjoyed a successful distance-running career and now makes her Olympic return as chef de mission of the Refugee Team.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Tegla Loroupe is a former marathon world record holder, but her contribution to the 2016 Rio Olympics could be her greatest achievement.

The Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in her native Kenya had already recognized the value of offering sport to refugees, and when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to form a Refugee Team for the 2016 Games, an opportunity was born.

"I used to run to school, 10 kilometres, I was already training ... but these athletes were just in camp," the Refugee Team chef de mission told a press conference for the team Sunday. "Sport is important for those in camps."

Out of the 10-member Refugee Team competing at the Games, six will do so in athletics in addition to two judokas and two swimmers.

Trial races were held at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, a home to many fleeing the horrors of the war that led to the creation of South Sudan.

"When they were selected and came to Nairobi ... you could see improvement," Loroupe said.

"They met the qualifying standards for [the athletics governing body] IAAF. They‘re not here because they‘re hand-picked. They worked very hard. There are millions of refugees - they offer hope."

Loroupe certainly knows about improvement and hard work, having set two marathon world records, won the individual half-marathon world championship three times and triumphed in several big city marathons.

She competed at three Olympic Games 1992-2000, though she failed to medal.

Now 43, her own competitive running days are behind Loroupe, but now she is offering the chance to others.

The athletes, who respectfully refer to her as Madame Tegla, are understandably grateful for the help she gave them in discovering just what they can achieve.

"Without her we did not know we had the talent," Anjaline Lohalith said, a 1,500-metre runner who faces up to world record holder Genzebe Dibaba in her event.

"I left South Sudan in 2002 when I became a refugee in Kenya because of war," Lohalith said. "[It] was during the night when all our houses were burned, then we escaped away."

Lohalith‘s story should be shocking, but the reality of mass refugees means that it is just another sad tale. It did not even stand out as particularly harrowing compared to refugee team-mates who spoke of hiding from involuntary child conscription or being separated from loved ones.

The other thing they share is an appreciation for the chance they have at Rio - less so for themselves individually but what they can do for their fellow refugees.

"We all know we are representing refugees all over the world," 400-metre runner James Chiengjiek said. "It‘s a chance to show that refugees can do something."

Yiech Pur Biel, an 800m runner, said: "Being a refugee doesn‘t mean you can‘t do everything, [you] can be part of everything you can do. We can tell [the] world we can do everthing people can do."

Rio will last only a few weeks for the refugees before they return home to their adopted countries, and the eyes of the world may move on.

But Loroupe, and her foundation, will keep battling.

"I open my requests to anyone who can help us or help the IOC," she said.

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