RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - It was what Yusra Mardini left unsaid, rather than the conventional words of excitement, that made the bigger impression after the teenager’s debut in the Olympic pool on Saturday.
“I was only thinking about water and the last competitions and where I am now,” the Syrian, swimming for a refugee team, told reporters when asked what went through her mind ahead of her 100 meter butterfly heat.
The first of the refugees in action, she had looked down briefly before stepping on the platform.
“I left swimming for two years so now we are working to get back to my level,” said the 18-year-old, who won her heat of five swimmers but finished 41st overall, when asked how her time compared to previous ones.
There was no need to explain the two-year break in her career, or indeed what kind of water might have been on her mind.
Rio is a life away from where she started.
To get to the point where she could discuss simple strokes and times involved fleeing Syria, making a treacherous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and arriving in Berlin with her sister last year.
She swam part of that crossing over to the island of Lesbos, helping other refugees who were in the water and were unable to swim.
“It was quite hard to think that you are a swimmer and you might end up dying in the water,” she said later.
A competitive swimmer in Syria, she is now part of a refugee team backed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). She has met the Pope and been feted in Rio.
“It was really cool and everything was amazing and everyone welcomed us,” she said of the opening ceremony, speaking as reporters crowded around.
“It was really amazing and an incredible feeling to compete here in the Olympics and I am happy and glad for that...I’m really happy to be here and to see all of the champions and other swimmers here.”
She shrugged off a suggestion that all the attention around her might have prevented her from just enjoying the experience of the Games.
“This is not difficult because all of those people want to show everyone what I’m doing...and that we didn’t stop our refugee trip and it continues,” she said. And then it was back to sport again.
“I’m really excited for the 100 freestyle and I hope I’m going to swim better.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis