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Refugee Mardini making waves in and out of the Olympic pool

Europe
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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - The biggest wave at the opening swimming session of the Rio Olympics was made not in the pool at the aquatics centre but rather the mixed zone, where desperate reporters chased down refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini.

The bubbly teenager was not reluctant to talk about her swim in the 100-metre butterfly heats but was simply being moved to a different area to conduct her interviews - the result of dozens of pursuing the 18-year-old down along the corridor would likely have appeared comical to outsiders.

"It was really amazing, it was an incredible feeling to compete here at the Olympics," Mardini said when the chaos eventually settled a little.

Mardini was never likely to survive the heats of the event but her time of 1 minute 9.21 seconds was nearly half a second slower than her qualifying time. She briefly appeared a little disappointed walking towards the journalists and refugee team media representative Sophie Edington - herself a former elite swimmer with a host of medals to her name - placed a consoling arm around her shoulder.

But there is a reason Mardini is widely considered the face of the 10-strong refugee team and so highly in demand. After two years out of swimming when she fled her native Syria for Germany, she simply acknowledged, in near flawless American English, she was "working to get back to my level," with her Berlin club Wasserfreunde Spandau.

The Wasserfreunde (water-friends) were thanked for their help and told "they‘re in my heart," but for now the immediate focus is on Mardini‘s other event, the 100m freestyle.

"I‘m really excited," Mardini said of the next competition on Wednesday.

Mardini hopes to hit her best in that event but even if it does not work out, she is better placed than most to keep sporting failures in perspective.

On fleeing Syria, Mardini and her sister jumped into the water to push their sinking boat to safety and, understandably, the pressures of competing at the Olympics and dealing with the media are "not difficult" in comparison.

"I‘m really happy to be here and see all the champions here," she concluded of her time in Rio so far.

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