The stories of refugees – having to flee their home country for safety – and for some – losing a parent and starting afresh in a host nation is a mighty challenge. These members of the Refugee Olympic Team have overcome such challenges, taken up sport, training and competition to rise to world stage. It’s a Dream to Compete in the Olympic Games.
Popole Misenga (born 25 February 1992) is a judoka originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has been selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete for the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is now competing in his second Olympics as a Judoka.
Misenga first took up judo at a centre for displaced children in Kinshasa. In 2010 he won a bronze medal at the African under-20 Judo Championships.
At the 2013 World Judo Championships held in Brazil he was eliminated in the first round of his competition after losing to Islam Bozbayev of Kazakhstan. Following this tournament he sought asylum in Brazil and remained in the country. In Brazil he started training at the Instituto Reação, a judo school founded by Olympic bronze medallist Flávio Canto, and now trains under coach Geraldo Bernardes in Rio de Janeiro. Before being taken by Reação, Misenga had odd jobs at truck crews. He received support and funding from the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity programme.
Rose Nathike Lokonyen (born 24 February 1995) is a track and field athlete originally from South Sudan, but later living and training in Kenya. Rose carried the Olympic Flag for the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at Rio in 2016; today, she is competing in her second Refugee Olympic Team, and again, carried the Olympic Flag at Tokyo 2020.
Lokonyen was born in South Sudan. Her father is a soldier and she has four younger siblings. When she was 10, Lokonyen and her family fled from soldiers in their village of Chukudum on foot. The family then crowded into the back of a truck and made their way to Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. Her parents left the Kakuma in 2008 but left Lokonyen and her siblings at the refugee camp. When she reached high school, while still living in the refugee camp, Lokonyen began running as a hobby.
She trains with Tegla Loroupe, a Kenyan world record holding long-distance runner.
Cyrille Tchatchet II (born 1 August 1995) is a Cameroonian weightlifter. He competed in the 85 kg weight category at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and finished fifth.
He took up weightlifting at the age of 14. He also competed at the British senior weightlifting and under-23 championship 2016 where he was third and first respectively. He won the British, English and BUCs weightlifting championships 2017, 2018 and 2019. In June 2021, he was selected to represent the Refugee Olympic Team in weightlifting.
He took weightlifting at the age of 14 after seeing the picture of his cousin’s father who was a weightlifter representing Cameroon. He therefore started training at Golden weightlifting club before switching to WOCA weightlifting club.
He moved to the United Kingdom in 2014 and obtained refugee status in 2016. He decided to pursue a BSc Mental Health Nursing degree at Middlesex University after experiencing mild depression while claiming asylum.
James Nyang Chiengjiek (born March 2, 1992) is a runner originally from South Sudan, but now living and training in Kenya. He was selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete for the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics. He placed last in his 400 m heat. He has been selected to represent the Refugee Olympic Team in athletics.
Chiengjiek is originally from Bentiu, South Sudan. In 1999 his father, who was a soldier, was killed during the Second Sudanese Civil War. At the age of 13 Chiengjiek left South Sudan and escaped to Kenya as a refugee to avoid being recruited by rebels as a child soldier. In 2002 he ended up at the Kakuma refugee camp. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially granted him refugee status in December 2014.
He began running whilst attending school in Kenya; joining a group of older children from a town in the highlands known for its long-distance runners who were training for events. He often had to train without shoes which resulted in him getting injured frequently.
In 2013 he was selected to join a group of athletes in the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, a support program for refugees from the Kakuma camp run by former marathon world record holder Tegla Loroupe. These athletes were identified by the IOC as having the potential to compete at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
On 3 June 2016 the IOC announced that Chiengjiek would be part of a team of ten athletes selected to compete for the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He has since joined his second Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo, 2020.
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