Rose Nathike flies the flag for refugees everywhere at Tokyo 2020

Nathike, flagbearer for the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016, has been flying the flag for refugees at Tokyo 2020 too.

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

"Sport is everything to me, it is my passion, it has given me hope," Rose Lokonyen Nathike told in March.

Her dedication to sport is also what's taken her to compete on the greatest stage there is at two Olympic Games, an amazing achievement in her journey.

At 10 years of age Nathike was forced to flee a civil war in South Sudan when armed militias arrived in her village, her whole family setting out on foot for the Kakuma refugee camp across the Kenyan border in the south.

When she started running there, little idea did she have of how far she would go.

Nathike made history at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when she competed in the 800m and was given the honour of being the flagbearer for the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

At the Tokyo Games in her Round 1 Heat 2 qualifier she lined up against world-class athletes like Jamaica's Natoya Goule.

Nathike ran well, recording a 2:11.87 time, a huge improvement on her 2:16.64 from Rio five years ago and almost two seconds faster than the 2:13.39 that she clocked at the Doha Worlds too.

It wasn't enough to qualify for the semi-finals, but once again Lokonyen has flown the flag for the millions of refugees all over the world.

Rose Nathike's journey

When you learn more about her journey you can see why doing what she's done is truly remarkable.

Racing barefoot in a refugee camp, her talent was spotted when she started competing in organised running competitions in 2015.

Talented and hard-working, in 2015 she was selected to train at the Tegla Loroupe Refugee Training Centre in Ngong, just outside Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

Coached by three-time Olympian Loroupe, Nathike earned her spot at the Olympic Games in Rio as part of the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team, where she was chosen as the flagbearer.

As she trained harder that ever for Tokyo 2020, intent on improving, disaster struck the world and the pandemic forced her training centre to close.

She had no choice but to go back to the Kakuma refugee camp, which houses for nearly 200,000 refugees.

"This [Kakuma] is home for me, this is where my family is, so there is nowhere else to go." Nathike shared from Tokyo.

“You know, training in Kakuma, the weather is too hot. You are not able to train.”

“We took almost 9 months there.”

Despite the setbacks she stayed positive, inspiring everyone around her as always.

"Never lose hope, keep on training. This pandemic has hit us hard, but it will end." - Rose Nathike Lokonyen

Chosen for one of 54 IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarships, which were extended into 2021, she could keep training and now has the experience of a second Olympic Games under her belt.

"No one chooses to be a refugee"

“We feel like we are human beings,” Nathike shared with, when looking back on the Rio Games in 2016.

“We can do what others are doing also.”

“Being a refugee is just a status and being a refugee doesn’t mean your life ends there. As long as you do what is right for you, you can achieve whatever you want.”

Inspired by her own experiences, now inspiring others comes naturally too.

“You know for us going to the Olympics, when we go back to Kakuma refugee camp, sometimes we encourage the young girls, and boys also to do sport because we know the perception of people saying refugees are not we people. We are all human beings, no one chooses to be a refugee."

Constantly improving and working harder to shave seconds off her time, she is an inspiration at 26 years of age, but asking if she's going to quit after falling in the heats at successive Olympic Games is a ridiculous question

Rose Nathike won't give up, Paris 2024 is only three years away.


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