Stories of hope at the Olympics

stadiumThe Rio Olympics has seen record-breaking feats, with Usain Bolt racing himself into Olympics history and Michael Phelps winning his 28th, and most-likely final, medal.

Many athletes dream of returning home with a gold medal. But for some, just getting to the Olympics is a remarkable achievement.

Day one of the Rio Olympics saw teenage Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini win her 100m butterfly heat. Just over a year ago, Ms Mardini was swimming in the Aegean Sea when her boat broke down during a crossing from Turkey to Greece.

Even though her time was not enough to qualify for the semi-finals, Ms Mardini was widely praised for her courage and resilience.

A remarkable story of sportsmanship emerged during the women’s 5000m heat.

During the race, American Abbey D’Agnostino and Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand both stumbled and fell onto the track. Instead of trying to chase the rest of the pack, Ms D’Agnostino helped Ms Hamblin back on her feet. However, it soon became apparent that Ms D’Agnostino was badly injured by the fall. She urged Ms Hamblin to continue on, but the Kiwi waited for the American and checked on her before she resumed her run.

The two runners, who had never met before, embraced each other at the finish line.

“You come into an Olympic Games and everyone wants to win, everyone wants to medal,” Ms Hamblin told reporters.

“But really, as disappointing as this experience is, there is so much more to this than a medal. When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years’ time, that’s my story.”

The Olympics brings together athletes from all around the world. For some competitors, the Olympics are more than just a sporting event – it is a global platform to raise awareness about urgent humanitarian issues.

Weightlifter David Katoatau is from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, a country severely impacted by climate change.

Mr Katoatau has personally experienced the devastating effects of climate change. When he won Kiribati’s first-ever gold medal at the Commonwealth Games two years ago, Mr Katoatau was awarded an $11,000 state grant, which he used to build a house for his parents. However, it was destroyed by a cyclone soon after its construction.

Mr Katoatau has quickly become a social media sensation for his exuberant celebrations. But he explained there is a deeper message behind his dance moves.

“Most people don’t know where Kiribati is,” Mr Katoatau told Reuters. “I want people to know more about us so I use weightlifting, and my dancing, to show the world.

“I wrote an open letter to the world last year to tell people about all the homes lost to rising sea levels. I don’t know how many years it will be before it sinks.”

Brazilian Rafaela Silva thrilled home fans with a victory over world number one Sumiya Dorjsuren in the 57kg judo. Her victory was a message of hope for the many children growing up in Rio’s favelas. Ms Silva is from the Cidade de Deus (City of God), a Rio favela notorious for its poverty and gang violence.

Four years ago in London, Ms Silva was disqualified for an illegal hold. She became a target of vicious racial abuse and considered retiring from the sport. But she fought back from depression and went on to win Brazil’s first Gold at the Rio Olympics.

Outside the sporting arena, some athletes are making a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children.

Australian beach volleyball player Bo Soderberg missed out on selection for the Rio Olympics, but that did not stop him from teaming up with local volunteer groups to support children in Rio’s favelas.

Many of the children have not been to a beach before and Mr Soderberg organised a day out with Rio-based group Educate the Favela. More than 60 children from three favelas spent at day at the beach.

“I had an idea of giving back to the sport a bit,” Mr Sodererg told the ABC.

“I’m coming to the end of my career and I read about all the homeless kids in Brazil and I thought, maybe we can get them down to the beach for a bit, have a bit of fun.”

Image sourced from Ridge via Twitter

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