Saturday, 06 August 2016 - 9:53
Gilded Games Begin in Gritty Rio


After months of planning, hundreds of headlines and years of training for the world's top athletes, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are finally here.

Friday's opening ceremony was a flamboyant feast of Brazilian culture -- if there's one country that knows how to party, it's Brazil.

Time and again, the Olympic games have served to reflect and even amplify this spirit. It has allowed people to represent their countries—even if they weren’t officially recognized by their neighbors or members of the United Nations. This year Kosovo, still officially part of Serbia, will make its Olympic debut with eight athletes after the IOCrecognized its bid for independent status. Chinese Taipei, a nation more traditionally known as Taiwan, will participate in Rio with 59 athletesunder a cloud of controversy. Palestine, which has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995, is bringing six athletes to Brazil.

The Olympics also lets athletes participate despite the sins or mistakes of their home country. In Rio, for instance, swimmer Faye Sultan, a native of Kuwait, will participate as an independent athlete after her country was banned by the IOC.

But this summer, one group’s participation will doubtless outshine even Kosovo’s historic inclusion. The first ever refugee team will participate at the games in Rio, representing not a country, but the 65 million people displaced (internally, or outside their country) by war and persecution.

The ten athletes represent Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Despite overcoming unimaginable hardships on their way to Rio, all of the athletes share an ardent desire that their refugee status not define them. “We still are humans,” said Yusra Mardini, 18, a heroic swimmer from Syria who last year helped drag a sinking boat full of fellow refugees to safety. “We are not only refugees, we are like everyone in the world.”
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