Olympics: Syrian refugees dream of selfies with Phelps



RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, Alastair Himmer- A year ago, Syrian swimmer Rami Anis floated across the Mediterranean in a dinghy as part of a wave of refugees risking the perilous journey to flee war.
Now an Olympic athlete competing in Rio as a member of the Games' first-ever refugee team, he dreams of snapping a selfie with his hero Michael Phelps.
"Michael Phelps is my role model," the 25-year-old Anis told reporters Tuesday after finishing sixth in his 100 metres freestyle heat.



"I hope I will be able to meet him and take a picture with him."
Along with teenager Yusra Mardini, who used her swimming skills to help pull a leaking dinghy to the Greek shore, Anis is trying to come to terms with celebrity after escaping the bloody conflict raging in Syria.
"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.
"I want to shine the spotlight on the plight of refugees," added Anis, whose treacherous journey to freedom took him through six European countries before finally settling in Belgium.
"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."
Anis, who tried in vain to get a snapshot with Phelps at previous world championships, has a rival for the American's affections in Mardini.
"I never missed any Olympics and as a kid I would be screaming at the TV: Michael Phelps! Michael Phelps, yeah!" said the 18-year-old Mardini, whose story of saving a boat packed full of refugees from drowning made headlines around the world.
"I'll never be as big or famous as Michael Phelps. I didn't achieve a lot until now. If I can achieve something, maybe I can be like him."
Mardini added: "I just spoke to my mum. She said: 'My daughter is getting fame, you are everywhere. Are you even going to remember me?' Everyone is sending me messages and tagging me on Facebook. I can't keep track."
Like Anis, she has yet to get her prized Phelps selfie.
"I'm not going up to famous athletes to get photos," she said. "I don't like to disturb them while they are trying to get on with things. Maybe I'll get some at the end."
Anis, whose main event is the 100m fly, expressed regret that he was not able to march under Syria's flag at the opening ceremony in Rio.
"It's an awkward feeling to be competing under a flag that is not your country's flag," he said.
"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."
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Wednesday, August 10th 2016
Alastair Himmer
           


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