Every day of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Fusion is highlighting a handful of the games’ thousands of athletes. They won’t always be Americans, but they will always be worthy of your cheers.
Refugee team, Swimming
When she’s competing: Wednesday, August 2 at 12:02 p.m
For Yusra Mardini, the Olympics are more than just a celebration of athletic accomplishments on the world's largest stage—they're an opportunity to shed light on the plight of millions around the globe without a nation to call home. As a member of the newly assembled Refugee Olympic Team, Mardini has become the face of perhaps the games' most powerful emotional narrative in history. A native of Syria, Mardini fled her country in 2015, eventually settling in Germany after a journey that saw her helping push a stalled boat of fellow refugees across the Mediterranean sea en route to Greece. "I was thinking it would be a real shame if we drowned, because we are swimmers,” Mardini told The New Yorker. “I hated the sea after that." Despite winning her heat for the Woman's 100-meter butterfly competition, Mardini did not advance to the semifinals for that stroke. She is slated to compete in the 100-meter freestyle competition on Wednesday afternoon.
Karen Cope Charles
Costa Rica, Beach Volleyball
When She's Competing: Wednesday, Aug 10 5:30 p.m.
Along with partner Nathalia Alfaro, Charles is the first Costa Rican athlete to compete in a Beach Volleyball tournament in Olympic history. At 30-years-old, Charles has been playing volleyball for half her life, and has paired with Alfaro since 2013. She is under no illusions that she is an underdog at this years games, telling Costa Rica's Tico Times: "We're still aware that there are bigger teams that have been working together a lot longer than we have. And they have different ways of working that we have. I think it's going to be hard," she admitted, adding "but we're still willing to work for it."
When She's Competing: Wednesday, Aug 17 1:30 p.m. and Friday, August 19 1:30 p.m, 3:00 p.m.
Despite childhood dreams of competing as a gymnast when she grew up, Medellin, Colombia's Mariana Pajon opted for two wheels instead, becoming the "reigning queen of BMX cycling." Her win at the 2012 London games was Colombia's second gold medal ever, and she has since become a national hero. "The role of women in the Olympic movement is very important," she explained before the Rio games. "We can show that we can be Olympic champions, that we can participate in any sport we want and do it well, just like men." In addition to her status as a world-class BMX rider, Pajon has focused on philanthropy, reportedly being named a "champion for peace" by the United Nations Development Program in 2015. She also helms the Pedalando Por Un Sueño foundation ("Pedaling for a dream"), which focuses on unity in her native Colombia.