Pain and pride of refugee team shine through Misenga's tears

Sat Jul 30, 2016 5:41pm EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

RIO DE JANERIO (Reuters) - With tears streaming as he spoke of one day being reunited with the brother he lost in the terrifying chaos of the Democratic Republic of Congo's civil war, Popole Misenga showed the potential power of the Olympics' Refugee Team on Saturday.

It is not often a room packed with sports journalists breaks into spontaneous applause but it seemed the only adequate response to Misenga's moving account.

He explained how he went from a boy hiding in the forest to escape the appalling violence in his homeland to a man sitting on a stage addressing the world's media as part of the build-up to his appearance in the Rio Olympic judo competition.

"I can hardly believe I’m here with so many people listening to us," he said at a news conference to introduce some of the members of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Refugee Team, who will compete under the Olympic flag.

"When I think of those things all those years ago I feel sad. I haven't seen my family for 18 years. I have two brothers, I don’t know what they will look like now as we were separated when we were small.

"If you can see me on TV now I am alive and well and striving so that one day I can get a ticket for you to come here and live with me," he said, his voice quivering as he wiped away the tears. "I send my hugs and best wishes wherever you might be."

Misenga was nine when he fled the violence that tore the African nation apart and, separated from his family, wandered for eight days in the forest before being rescued and taken to a refugee center in the capital Kinshasa.

He was introduced to judo there and quickly progressed to a level where he was selected to represent the DRC at the world championships in Brazil.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Judo - Refugee Olympic Team Training - Reacao Institute - Rio De Janeiro, Brazil - 28/07/2016. Refugee and judo athlete from the Democratic Republic of Congo Popole Misenga trains during a training session. REUTERS/Nacho Doce