Yusra Mardini and Tachlowini Gabriyesos announced as flagbearers of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team

The two athletes who will be carrying the Olympic flag on behalf of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are swimmer Yusra Mardini and marathon runner Tachlowini Gabriyesos.

The Refugee Olympic Team IOC / Greg Martin

Mardini, who competed at Rio 2016 as part of the first Refugee Olympic Team, expressed her excitement: “I am honoured to carry the flag because to me it means that I am representing all refugees around the world, also carrying their hopes for a better world,” she said. “I will be representing the entire team and convey our message that refugees can dream and be successful just like anyone else.” 

Tokyo 2020 will be Gabriyesos’ first participation at the Olympic Games. He will be carrying the flag together with Mardini.

Two different journeys, one Olympic dream

Prior to the war in Syria, Yusra was a competitive swimmer who represented her country in international competitions. As the war intensified, Yusra and her sister left Damascus in early August 2015 and reached Berlin in September 2015. Since then, Yusra has been training at the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 club, which is a partner of the Elite Schools of Sport in Berlin. She was selected to compete at Rio 2016 as part of the first ever Refugee Olympic Team, and was appointed the youngest ever UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in April 2017.

The Refugee Olympic Team IOC / Greg Martin

Tachlowini fled insecurity in Eritrea when he was just 12 years old with his 13-year-old friend. From there, he spent time in Ethiopia and Sudan, before eventually making the treacherous journey across the Sinai to Israel. He recalls his friend teaching him a trick he learnt from his father: before going to sleep, they would take off their shoes and leave them pointing in their direction of travel so that when they awoke the next morning, they would not lose their way.

Upon reaching Israel, Tachlowini spent time in detention before being sent to a school in Hadera, where he met his running coach. It has been eight years since he last saw the family he left behind.

The Refugee Olympic Team IOC / Greg Martin

One female and one male flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony

For the first time, at Tokyo 2020 all participating National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have been given the opportunity by the IOC to send a strong message of inclusive Olympic Games where women and men have equal prominence. Earlier this year, the IOC Executive Board approved a change to the IOC’s protocol guidelines to allow one female athlete and one male athlete from each NOC to carry the flag jointly during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Summer Games.

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