Heroic refugee hopes to become an Olympic swimmer

Yusra Mardini could represent a new refugee banner at Rio

By ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

Usain Bolt, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Yusra Mardini - you will only have heard of three of them, but come the summer, all four could well be stars of the Olympics. The first three for their achievements in Rio, the fourth for what she has achieved in just getting there.

Yusra's story starts like those of so many refugees - fleeing with sister Sarah from their war-torn homeland of Syria. But on crossing between Turkey and the Greek island of Lesbos, their boat began sinking. The sisters and one other teenager jumped overboard, and hanging onto the side, swam and steered and pushed the vessel towards safety. They pushed the boat for three miles, and for several hours, until it finally reached safety.

The other seventeen on board would surely have drowned without their help, as they couldn't swim. However, Yusra and Sarah were swimmers of national repute at home - and told me that they thought they preferred to die saving others than to save no-one at all.

Yusra (top centre in blue headband) with fellow refugees

Then, after months of travelling, finally they arrived at a refugee camp in West Berlin, where the first person they met was Atef, an interpreter. He also just happened to have links with one of the city's top swimming clubs.

Since then, Yusra has astounded coaches with her progress, given for two years she has not been able to practice after facilities were destroyed in Syria.

Now she is one of 43 athletes selected by the International Olympic Committee to potentially compete under a new banner in Brazil - that of refugees.

Yusra training the pool in Germany Credit: IOC

There is a chance that Yusra may not make the Games as she must meet the strict criteria by which all competitors have to qualify - that decision will be taken within the next three months. She remains confident - and says that even if she doesn't make Rio, she will 100 percent make Tokyo 2020.

There can be no better example of Olympian spirit than what this eighteen year old has already demonstrated.