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Syrian swimmer at Rio Olympics thanks Russia for helping his home country

August 12, 16:19 UTC+3 RIO DE JANEIRO
Syrian swimmer Azad al-Barazi was detained upon his arrival at Rio de Janeiro as authorities grew suspicious he might be a member of the IS
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Syrian swimmer Azad al-Barazi

Syrian swimmer Azad al-Barazi

© AP Photo/Michael Sohn

RIO DE JANEIRO, August 12. /TASS/. Syrian swimmer Azad al-Barazi who competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics thanked Russia for assistance to his home country, the athlete told TASS on Friday.

The Syrian national team comprises seven athletes - four men and three women at the Olympic Games. Al-Barazi has been the sole swimmer representing Syria in Rio.

The armed conflict in Syria has been going on since 2011. According to al-Barazi, he was born in Saudi Arabia and has been living and training in the United States since he was six years old. However, the swimmer considers Syria as his home country where a lot of his nears and dears live.

"The events in Syria are appalling and shocking me to the bottom of my heart and I constantly watch the developments in my home country," al-Barazi said.

"The continuing civil war in Syria is one of the tragic episodes in the history of my country. Before the Olympics, I had to concentrate on training sessions and swimming but this was difficult to do due to constant worries about the future of my relatives and family friends who stayed at home. I don’t know anything about politics and I’m apolitical but I want to sincerely thank Russia that it has not stayed aside and is helping Syria," the swimmer said.

"In the United States, I sometimes hear whisper behind my back because I’m a Syrian"

As was reported earlier, al-Barazi was detained upon his arrival at Rio de Janeiro airport over accreditation problems. The Syrian Swimming Federation had not notified the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of the athlete’s arrival. The Brazilian authorities grew suspicious that al-Barazi might be a member of the Islamic State terrorist organization (outlawed in Russia).

Al-Barazi had to demonstrate lots of electronic letters to Brazilian law-enforcement agencies to prove he was a swimmer who had qualified for the Olympics.

"This was a disappointing incident but it is already over," al-Barazi said.

"Yes, I’m living in the United States but up to now I sometimes hear whisper behind my back because I’m a Syrian. I want to say loudly that I’m happy that I’m representing Syria at the Olympic Games. This is a big honor for me and an amazing experience for me. I feel the true Olympian spirit here in the Olympic Village: the village for athletes is a place of peace and unity of peoples," the Syrian swimmer said.

The Syrian swimmer competed in the 100m breaststroke distance but failed to advance to the next round.

‘Of course, I’m dissatisfied with my result," al-Barazi said. "Quite recently, my result was 2 seconds faster. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying that I’m performing at the Olympics," the Syrian swimmer said.

Olympics heroine Mardini fled Syria by swimming

The IOC made an historic decision in March to allow a team of refugees to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The refugee team is competing at the Olympics for the first time. The IOC’s decision has already been recognized as historic, embodying then true Olympic values and sending a message encoded in the Olympics’ main symbols: five interlaced rings symbolizing the union of five continents and the meeting of the athletes of the world.

The refugee team is competing at the Rio Olympics under the Olympic flag. Overall, 45 athletes were bidding for joining the refugee team. As a result, 10 athletes were selected, including 18-year-old Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini who has become a heroine of the Olympic Games.

The swimmer fled war-torn Syria together with her elder sister Sarah last year. The Mardini sisters had to sail in an inflatable boat together with a group of 20 people for many hours from Turkey to Greece to get to Germany where the girls’ parents were already staying. However, the boat’s motor failed at some moment. Aside from Yusra, only three passengers aboard the boat could swim. So, Yusra and the three passengers jumped into the sea and spent more than three hours and a half in cold water, pushing the boat to land. All the refugees were rescued and in 35 days the sisters reunited with their family in Berlin.

According to Mardini, she does not recollect the dramatic events of that day as the worst horror in her life. "These are not entirely horrible memories for me," the swimmer told journalists.

"I’m well aware that most likely I wouldn’t have survived without my ability to swim. That is why, I assess this episode of my life with the plus sign," she said.

After her rescue, Mardini continued training and then was invited to the refugee team to compete at the Olympics. "My message to all the participants in the Olympic Games is as follows: never give up," the Syrian swimmer said.

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