Yusra Mardini has been the youngest ambassador of the UN refugee agency UNHCR since April 2017. The organization sees her as nothing less than the face of the global refugee crisis. Her story is considered an inspiration. With her sister Sarah, Yusra fled Syria's civil war in 2015. From Turkey, she tried to cross to Greece in an inflatable boat. When the boat's engine cut out, Yusra and her sister - also a competitive swimmer - and two other fugitives jumped into the water. They stabilized the boat and pulled it to shore while swimming for over three hours. Together with the other swimmers, the two sisters saved the lives of 20 people.
In her swimming pool in her hometown of Damascus, Yusra witnessed a grenade penetrate the roof of her training pool during the civil war. The training group was lucky, the grenade sank to the bottom of the pool without exploding. How relaxed Yusra must have felt during her training in Berlin. She resumed training with the Wasserfreunde Spandau after fleeing to Germany. The club, known for its internationally successful water polo players, became a temporary home for Yusra. In the meantime, the 23-year-old lives in Hamburg and trains there at the Olympic base.
- Mardini is still a Syrian record holder today. In 2012, she swam the 400-meter freestyle at the Short Course World Championships in Istanbul in 4:56.66 minutes, setting a Syrian national record. The German record is just under four minutes.
In 2016, Yusra was allowed to speak at the United Nations. With her speech of just under three minutes, she led over to the appearance of the then US President Barack Obama at the UN General Assembly, whom she later also met for a one-on-one conversation. Obama praised her "as a great role model" for children around the world. He also reportedly asked her about her family and autographed her speech manuscript. The period after the Rio Olympics thus became the peak of her worldwide fame. The young swimmer also met Pope Francis, Time magazine listed her as one of the 30 most influential teenagers.
In Rio, French 2012 Olympic champion Florent Manaudou also addressed her at the competitions. "I'm proud to know her," Manaudou said at the time. The two exchanged swim caps. I wonder if they'll see each other again at the Tokyo Olympics . After quitting swimming in between dabbling as a handball player and actor, Manaudou has since returned to the pool and has also qualified for the Games.
Of course, Mardini is also on social media. 140,000 subscribers follow her on Instagram. For her role as an influencer, she received an "About you" award in the sports category in May. „I am very grateful to be alive. When I started swimming, I never imagined that sports would save my life," she said in her acceptance speech. She probably also never imagined that she would one day become a familiar face. But she doesn't want that marketed for any purpose either. When a tea manufacturer wanted to print her face on its packs, she declined. "I drink tea, but to see my face on a package, that's weird," she told the "Bild" newspaper.
If Yusra wins a medal in Tokyo, it would certainly be one of the biggest sensations in Olympic history. However, this is not to be expected. For example, if she had already been naturalized and could compete as a German, she would not have made it to the Olympics. "We all know that I will never swim the German standard times," Yusra told the newspaper "Die Welt" last year. But as soon as she has the German passport she is seeking, she will no longer be able to compete for the refugee team, nor for Syria. This should make it clear that her career as a competitive swimmer will come to an end after Tokyo. Nevertheless, Yusra has many plans for the future. She would like to study, but above all to open her own swimming school. At her old club in Spandau, she already initiated swimming courses for refugee children last year. „The city and the Wasserfreunde family have given me and my family a new life and I will never forget that."
- Her 40th place at the Rio Olympics was the biggest achievement for Yusra. It meant she had made it through the heats and reached the semi-finals. She succeeded in the 100-meter butterfly. In the 100-meter freestyle, she was eliminated in the preliminaries, and her time meant 45th place. She left Aminath Shajan from the Maldives behind in her preliminary heat.
In April, the streaming service Netflix announced its intention to film the true story of Yusra and Sarah in "The Swimmers". The two Syrian sisters will be portrayed by two other sisters - Lebanese actresses Manal and Nathali Issa will play the Mardini sisters. German superstar Matthias Schweighöfer is also set to star in "The Swimmers," and Netflix plans to broadcast the story worldwide in 2022. And so the hype surrounding Yusra Mardini is likely to continue even after her career as a competitive swimmer.