Tegla Loroupe on the dreams of the Olympic refugees at Tokyo 2020


solitary leg kick separated the IOC Refugee team at the Olympics from an historic first medal. But Kimia Alizadeh, who had earlier knocked out gold-medal favourite Jade Jones in the taekwondo, just missed out.

A bronze medallist at the last Games, she fled Iran and sought asylum in Germany. Each of her 28 teammates have their own story of being displaced from the land of their birth and remarkably finding their way to Tokyo.

Chef de mission Tegla Loroupe is herself no stranger to conflict. In West Pokot from where she hails, it is not uncommon to see men laden with AK-47s across their shoulders.

Conflict in the far west of Kenya has long been an issue, with cattle rustling a way of life for many and tribal wars bubbling over.

For as long as Tegla Loroupe can remember, she has known such adversity. As a young woman, opportunities were limited, to the extent her father told her she was useless and would amount to being a babysitter at best for her 24 siblings.

But at 47, she continues to use her peaceable initiatives and sport to ease conflicts from running races among West Pokot tribes to edge tensions between warring factions to acting as chef de mission for the first Olympic refugee team of 10 athletes in Rio de Janeiro.

Five years on, one of the great distance runners in history – she was the first black African woman to win a major marathon, in New York in 1994 – is again at the helm of arguably the most powerful team in Tokyo.

“Refugees are people and they should be given opportunities,” she said. “Instead, often people think when you’re a refugee you’re criminal. It’s like they bring a bad omen but it’s not like that. Anyone can be a refugee and get displaced in their country.

“I come from a conflict area and I became the best athlete in the world so these athletes of refugee status just need someone to help them pass these obstacles.”

The refugees train under the banner of the Tegla Loroupe Foundation with funding from the IOC, while Loroupe also set up a school for 400 children when her sister – a mother of six – died.

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