Popole Misenga represents refugees everywhere at Tokyo 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Popole Misenga of the Refugee Olympic Team celebrates after defeating Avtar Singh of India during a Men's -90kg bout on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Popole Misenga of the Refugee Olympic Team celebrates after defeating Avtar Singh of India during a Men's -90kg bout on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Misenga appeared at his second Olympics in Tokyo under the IOC Refugee Athletes Team banner, an inspiration on the judo mat.

Popole Misenga has an extraordinary story to tell.

Fleeing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he lost his family and wandered alone in the jungle for eight days.

Eventually found and brought to an orphanage in the capital Kinshasa he discovered something and it saved his life: "Judo saved me," he says in an Instagram post on the Refugeesteam Instagram.

“When you are a child, you need to have a family to give you instructions about what to do, and I didn’t have one. Judo helped me by giving me serenity, discipline, commitment – everything,” he continues.

Misenga, suffering abuse in Kinshasa where he says they would even lock athletes in cages for losing, escaped while at a tournament in Brazil and sought asylum, dreaming of a better life.

He made his Olympic debut at Rio 2016 , selected as part of the first ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team Misenga caused a sensation making the final 16 of the judo -90kg category, only losing out to world champion and eventual bronze Gwak Dong-han .

The Rio fans took him into their hearts in his adopted city, where he's lived and trained since 2013, chanting “Po-po-le! Po-po-le!” as he fought in the Carioca Arena.

When he stepped out five years later at the Nippon Budokan - today, July 28 2021 - in Tokyo, he was hoping to go on another jilted journey.

And this time around he has even more to fight for, between the last Olympics and this one he became a father.

Popole Misenga fights at Tokyo 2020

It wasn't to be, however, as he faced Hungary's Krisztian Toth in his opening fight, an elimination round of 32 contest.

Toth is a 2021 world champs bronze medallist with multiple Grand Slam and Grand Prix titles.

Misenga kept it tight in the opening moments of the fight and closed the door as Toth probed for openings, but with just 24 seconds left on the clock before golden score the Hungarian judoka made his move and caught Popole with a perfect seoi-nage.

The fight was over and Misenga laid on the mat, staring at the octagon on the Nippon Budokan ceiling trying to process it all.

It ended earlier than he would have hoped, but just as with the other IOC Refugee Athletes, Misenga's mere presence at Tokyo 2020 tells a story of inspiration, survival and of hope.