They came, they saw, their stories inspired the world.
Ten athletes — victims of unimaginable hardship, forced to leave their homes in South Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia and Syria — united under a single flag.
IOC President Thomas Bach called them “a symbol of hope” in a time of crisis. The Human Rights Watch claimed their involvement had “reframed the debate.”
A year on from Rio 2016, how have the lives of the members of the Olympic Refugee Team changed?
Yusra Mardini: Syria, Swimming
The tale of Yusra Mardini, Syria’s teenage swimmer who won her Olympic 100m butterfly heat just a year after swimming for her life, captivated the world.
Her house in Aleppo was bombed, the motor on the dinghy transporting her from Turkey to Greece stopped working, but she never lost hope.
Together with her sister, Sarah, Mardini pushed the boat for three hours through the Aegan sea toward Greek shores, potentially saving the lives of the 18 other migrants on board.
She might not have made the semifinals in Rio, but insisted “the only thing I wanted was to compete.”
One year on: Mardini is fighting new battles, shedding light on the millions displaced around the world and reclaiming the word ‘refugee’ as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Named by People magazine as one of ’25 women changing the world,’ the swimmer is in the process of penning an autobiography, with the story of her life also set to be told in a film by the award-winning director Stephen Daldry.
Mardini competed in the FINA World Aquatic Championships this July, returning to Hungary just two years after sleeping rough in a Budapest train station en route from Syria to Germany.
She is currently living in Berlin, preparing for Tokyo 2020.
Rami Anis: Syria, Swimming
Seven years ago, Rami Anis was swimming for Syria at the Asian Games in China.
After his home city of Aleppo was bombed, nothing was the same again.
His journey to safety — partly made on an inflatable dinghy — has taken him to Turkey, the Greek island of Samos and, finally, to Belgium, where he gained asylum in December 2015.
The 26-year-old achieved a personal best time of 54.25 seconds in his 100m freestyle heat in Rio, with his coach branding his inclusion on the team a form of “justice.”
One year on: Anis met his idol Michael Phelps — the most successful Olympian in history — at the Laureus Awards in Monaco. He hopes the war in his home country will end so he can represent Syria at Tokyo 2020.
Ibrahim Al Hussein: Syria, Swimming
Ibrahim Al Hussein lost his lower right leg in a bombing while trying to come to the assistance of a friend in danger near his Syrian home.
He woke twice during emergency surgery and “saw everything.” For two months, he went without painkillers or proper treatment.
One year on: The Rio Paralympics has given the swimmer who made headlines around the world for carrying the Olympic torch in Athens cause to dream again.
Al Hussein might not have made the final of the 100-meter freestyle, but in September he received the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award for the athlete that “best exemplifies the spirit of the Games.”