In the blue corner: Wessam Salamana is fighting to represent refugees everywhere at Tokyo 2020

He left war behind in Syria to train and box in Germany, now Salamana is taking a swing at a second Olympics nine years later.
By Ken Browne

Wessam Salamana is a Syrian-born Olympian boxer who trains in Saarbrücken, Germany, with the support of an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship.

Salamana fought at the London 2012 Olympic Games under the Syrian flag but in 2015 escaped the insecurity of a war with his wife and two children, determined to continue his boxing career and fight at Tokyo 2020 with the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

At London 2012 he was defeated in the -63kg (bantamweight) heats by Kazakh fighter Kanat Abutalipov and four years later when he might have had another chance, between the disruption and chaos at home and taking his family to Germany, he had little chance of making a return Olympic appearance at Rio 2016.

Olympics - London 2012 Olympic Games - ExCel Centre, London - 28/7/12 Boxing - Men's Bantam (56kg) Last 32 - Syrian Arab Republic's Wessam Salamana looks dejected after defeat. Credit: Action Images / Andrew Boyers 

For Salamana, however, the Olympic dream is still alive at 35 years of age and now he’s fighting fit, training in Voelklingen near Saarbrücken with experienced coach Heiko Staack, and taking aim at his second Olympic appearance after a nine-year hiatus.

Now between tournament cancellations, lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions, the veteran fighter has been staying fit at home and taking every opportunity that comes his way to get in the ring.

A previous runner-up at Germany's national boxing and kick-boxing championships, Salamana won his opening bout at January 2020's Strandja tournament in Sofia against Poland's Dominik Palak before losing out to local boxer Vensan Kirkorov.

This year in 2021 he was on the podium at the Cologne Boxing Cup taking third place in a tournament with a proud tradition that stretches back to 1970 - one that has hosted stars of the calibre of Cuba’s three-time Olympic Champion Teofilo Stevenson.

Inside the ring Salamana may be a seasoned fighter, but outside he had a very different type of battle on his hands.

Facing up to challenges like learning a new language and integrating with your family into a new culture can be daunting for anyone at any time, but try doing it in the grip of a global pandemic while attempting to make the Olympics at the same time.

Luckily for Wessam, a positive outlook and a deep well of mental strength are two of his greatest assets.

The gloves were off when he took part in the worldwide work-out on Olympic Day, doing press-ups with his kids on his back and offering up words of motivation to aspiring Olympians everywhere:

“Continue training, do not give up, the Olympic dream is coming,” he said.