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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Honoring Samia Yusuf Omar through ‘An Olympic Dream’ & the determination of the Refugee Olympic Team

Honoring Samia Yusuf Omar through ‘An Olympic Dream’ & the determination of the Refugee Olympic Team

Samia Yusuf Omar at the national track in Addis. Photo by and courtesy of Teresa Krug. 


Last January we published a story by ivoh freelancer Asha Siad about the unlikely friendship of American reporter Teresa Krug and Somali Olympian and refugee Samia Yusuf Omar.

As a young female, the 19-year-old sprinter defied many odds. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Omar competed in shoes and second-hand outfits donated by Sudanese female track team. According to an Al-Jazeera profile, when she returned to Somalia, she faced death threats and harassment the from Islamist militia Al-Shabab, who controlled parts of the capital. As she continued training in Mogadishu, Omar ran on streets because she did not have access to a proper track. When she ran in public, she covered her head, trying to avoid backlash from religious extremists, who did not believe a female should be an athlete, let alone an Olympian.

After meeting many times for interviews and staying in contact since 2008, communication grew difficult for Omar and Krug in 2011. “Then the messages I got from her were progressively alarming … one day she told me that she was going to go to Libya and could hopefully get into Italy so she could find a coach,” Krug said.

In April of 2012 Krug learned of Omar’s death through a YouTube video in which Abdi Bile, a famous Somali runner, announced that Omar drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe.

Omar’s story lives on. Two Somalis competing this year in Rio were inspired by Omar’s story of determination. She continues to be a role model for female athletes who live under restrictive circumstances and an inspiration for refugees who dream in the midsts of displacement.

This is why four years after her death, German illustrator Reinhard Kleist created “An Olympic Dream,” a comic that tells Omar’s story. A recent PRI story by Daniel Gross thoroughly details the comic: “By focusing on Omar’s remarkable life, not just her death, ‘An Olympic Dream’ humanizes a crisis that too often seems abstract. Kleist’s empathetic and emotional portrait of Omar, which draws heavily on Krug’s reporting, makes the case for new types of journalism focused on people, not just politics.”

Now, as we witness the world’s top athletes in Rio, one of the most significant and rising populations — refugees — have a hopeful presence in the stadiums. No one embodies the Olympic dream like the athletes on this summer’s refugee team.

Despite being displaced from their homes and countries, the 10 athletes that make up the Refugee Olympic Team proudly marched in the opening ceremony carrying the Olympic flag.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched the With Refugees Campaign in support of refugees competing in the Olympics and for those who continue to flee their homes in search of refuge on a daily basis.



One of the members of the Refugee Olympic Team, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini, represents the remarkable determination of the refugee Olympians.

Mardini and her sister Sarah fled Syria, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece. On route, the motor of the boat, meant for six people but carrying 20, gave out. Seeing that few people on the boat could swim, Mardini and her sister jumped into the Aegean Sea to swim and push their sinking boat to land. They are responsible for saving the lives of the 20 refugees on their boat.

Mardini, who now lives in Berlin, is competing in the women’s 100-metre butterfly and freestyle in Rio.

“I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees,” Mardini told The Guardian. “But because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go. A lot of people in Syria forgot their dreams and I hope everyone will follow their dreams to achieve something good in the future.”

According to the United Nations that there are currently more than sixty-five million people displaced from their homes.

During the opening ceremonies, Thomas Bach, director of the International Olympic Committee said, “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village, together with all the athletes of the world. … These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills, and strength of the human spirit.” Throughout the games, the media has worked to share each team member’s story showing that, like Samia Yusuf Omar, they too have persevered to defy all odds.  

Related: The unlikely story and friendship of an American reporter and a Somali Olympian | Tegla Loroupe Gives Refugee Olympians a Lesson in Hope