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Defeating the odds: Meet Refugee Olympic Team hopefuls Wael Shueb and Habtom Amaniel

These two IOC Refugee Athlete Scholars found a new life through karate and running, and now hope to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021.

By Andrew Binner ·

Karate has transformed Syrian refugee Wael Shueb from a lost soul to a man with a purpose.

The 33-year-old used to work in a textile factory and as a part-time karate coach in his native Damascus.

In 2015, with war looming, he felt he had no other choice than to flee the city.

After a four-week odyssey that included a treacherous boat journey to Turkey, and travelling through Macedonia on bike, he re-settled in Germany.

Sheub integrated into his new community by learning German and teaching karate to children and adults.

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But while the 2009 Syrian national champion is happy and grateful for his new life, his thoughts constantly drift to family and friends back home.

Shueb lost his brother-in-law to the war, and sometimes has to wait days to receive answers from messages to his sister, who also fled the city with her five children.

To compound matters, the medical infrastructure in his homeland is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is very difficult for them. Unfortunately, I can hardly do anything for them,” he told newsy today.

But the athlete is motivated by providing hope to his beloved, and all refugees around the world.

The non-contact style of karate called ‘kata’ will be making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, and in the spring of 2018 Shueb received the news that he was eligible for an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship that supports him for his training.

“I try to give them strength,” he says, “by showing what you can achieve as a refugee."

Habtom Amaniel: the runner on a mission

Persecution, injustice, and exile.

These are just a few of the things that Habtom Amaniel has lived through.

For political reasons, he had to take the difficult decision to flee Eritrea, in order to protect himself.

The now 31-year-old started a long journey which ended in Lausanne in Switzerland in September 2015.

A local running coach called Catherine Colomb created a team out of the young refugees she saw at the local immigration centre in her city, and Amaniel was one of the benefactors.

Out of 15 refugees, he was the only one to persevere with the training, and has been making a name for himself as a runner in the region ever since. In spring 2019, he won five stage victories at the Tour du Pays de Vaud.

“When a race is tough, there's a climb, it's never too difficult compared to what I've been through. It’s just fun,” Amaniel told 24heures.

“Now I always have a smile because I am happy. I have no more problems, I can run and in addition, I am trained as a painter. Now I have everything. If there is a problem, I always put things into perspective.” - Habtom Amaniel

In November 2019 he received an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship, and hopes to make the Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 as a 10,000m runner.

READ: Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 shortlist announced

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