Anjelina Nadai Lohalith in action at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© AFP / Getty Images)
Seven refugee athletes will compete in athletics at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, part of a squad of 29 announced today (8) by the International Olympic Committee.
Competing under the Olympic flag as the IOC Refugee Olympic Team, the athletes will take part in 12 sports at the postponed Olympic Games from 23 July to 8 August, with athletics represented by the largest squad.
The team includes Rose Nathike Lokonyen, the team's flag-bearer at the 2016 Games in Rio, and Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, another veteran of the 10-member 2016 team. Originally from South Sudan, the two live and train at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation camp in Ngong, Kenya. Lokonyen will compete in the 800m and Lohalith in the 1500m.
Loroupe, a former marathon world record-holder, three -time world champion and 2000 Olympian, will reprise her role as team’s Chef de Mission.
Heading the men's squad is Tachlowini Gabriyesos, the 23-year-old Eritrean native who clocked 2:10:55 at the Hahula Galilee Marathon on 14 March to become the first refugee athlete to better an Olympic qualifying standard. His run in Sapporo will mark the third marathon appearance for Gabriyesos, who trains with the Emek Hefer Club in Tel Aviv.
Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed, a Sudanese refugee who has trained with the Alley Runners Club in Tel Aviv since 2014, will compete in the 5000m. Mohammed, 27, competed on the World Athletics Refugee Team (ART) at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships and 2019 World Championships. More recently, he represented the ART at the European 10,000m Cup in Birmingham last weekend, finishing fifth in the B race in 28:52.64. He set his 5000m lifetime best of 13:54.28 in 2019.
Paulo Amotun Lokoro, another South Sudanese refugee based at the camp in Ngong, will also be making his second Olympic appearance, again competing in the 1500m. Lokoro, 29, improved his personal best to 3:47.03 in 2019, and competed on the World Athletics ART at the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships and 2019 World Championships.
Dorian Keletela, a Congolese refugee based in Portugal, will compete in the 100m. Keletela, 22, competed in the 60m at the European Indoor Championships in March, the first refugee athlete to compete at those championships. Keletela has a 10.46 lifetime best set in 2020.
James Nyang Chiengjiek, another member of the squad in Rio who will compete in the 800m in Tokyo, rounds out the squad. He'll be moving up from the 400m event he contested at the last Olympic Games.
Three coaches will be part of the athletics delegation: Francis Obikwelu, the 2004 Olympic silver medallist in the 100m; veteran middle distance coach Joseph Domongole from Kenya; and Alemayehu Gebrmeskel from Israel, who will coach the distance events.
The athletes were selected from a group of 55 refugee athletes currently supported by the IOC through the Olympic Scholarships for Refugee Athletes programme. At the Opening Ceremonies on 23 July, the team will be the second delegation to enter the stadium, sending a powerful message of inclusion, solidarity and hope to the world while bringing further awareness to the plight of more than 80 million people who are currently displaced worldwide.
“Congratulations to all of you,” IOC President Thomas Bach said, addressing the athletes.
“When you, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the athletes from the National Olympic Committees from all over the globe, finally come together in Tokyo on 23 July, it will send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world. You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms.”
UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi also offered his congratulations.
“I am thrilled to congratulate each of the athletes who have been named in the Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020,” he said.
“Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people, but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride. It shows what is possible when refugees are given the opportunity to make the most of their potential.”
The full delegation will meet for the first time as a team at the Aspire Academy in Doha on 12 and 13 July before flying to Japan on 14 July. During the Games, the team will be hosted by Waseda University, which will provide accommodation and training facilities, before the athletes move to the Olympic Village for their respective competitions.
The IOC Refugee Olympic Team will compete in Tokyo under the French acronym EOR, which stands for Equipe Olympique des Réfugiés. In all other competitions, refugee athletes compete as part of the World Athletics Athlete Refugee Team (ART).
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics