Ahmad Alikaj: From escaping a war to debuting at an Olympic Games

Judoka Ahmad Alikaj has overcome great obstacles and made his debut at Tokyo 2020 with the Refugee Olympic Team [EOR], an inspiration for refugees everywhere.

Ahmad Alikaj realised a lifelong dream today by stepping onto a judo mat at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Despite losing to Somon Makhmadbekov of Tajikistan, the refugee judoka enjoyed every minute of his Olympic experience.

The journey to this point was long and shadowed in doubt, even despair, Alikaj grew up in Aleppo in Syria before the war started, it forced him to flee to survive and pursue his dreams.

Finding a place to be and to train in Germany he was given a lifeline with an IOC Refugee Athlete scholarship, and was included in the IJF Refugee Team at the 2019 Budapest Grand Prix, also participating in the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo, as well as the Paris Grand Slam and Düsseldorf Grand Slam in 2020.

His hard work paid off when he was chosen as one of six judoka selected for the 29-strong IOC Refugee Athlete Team.

Competing in the -73kg category, Alikaj had the privilege of being the first fight on Mat 2 on 26 July 2021 at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, judo's spiritual home.

But up against the supremely talented 22-year-old of Tajikistan, an IJF Grand Slam and Asian Judo Championships bronze medallist, it was a tough ask.

Alikaj stayed with the Tajik fighter for a minute and a half, probing, looking for a hold, taking his opponent to the ground to try and work an opening, but after a minute and a half Makhmadbekov unbalanced Alikaj with some neat footwork and drove him down for Ippon, the contest lasting 1 minute 37 seconds.

A victory for refugee representation

As another proud representative of refugees everywhere, Alikaj said:

"We have been dreaming of that for years and today we are living our dream," in a statement with fellow judoka and Refugee Athletes Sanda Aldass and Muna Dahouk when it was confirmed that they were going to Tokyo 2020.

"We feel that we have a great responsibility. We will represent our sport, judo, but also the entire refugee community. We are so proud. We hope that millions of refugees across the globe will want to overcome their difficulties, based on what we have achieved."

The 30-year-old's incredible journey to the Olympics is over in Tokyo 2020, but even just getting here has been a great victory for him and for refugee representation.