South Sudanese runner Paulo Amotun Lokoro is among a group 29 athletes named to the International Olympic Committee’s Refugee Olympic Team. He will compete in the Summer Games in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8.
Lokoro fled conflict in South Sudan and joined others at the large Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya in 2006. He did not know at the time that he would soon take part in international sports.
Lokoro became interested in the Olympics when he was urged to compete in a 2015 marathon at Kakuma. The event was organized by the United Nations’ refugee agency and Kenya's Tegla Loroupe. Loroupe was the first African woman to win a major marathon, beginning with the New York City marathon in 1994.
Lokoro said of the Kakuma marathon, “I didn’t know I would go far. I was just running. We went to the field and jogged. I didn’t have the psychology of being in front or behind. My aim was to just follow the people going in front of me. I found some guys were tired, and then I led them.”
Lokoro competed in the Rio Olympics in August 2016 as a runner in the 1500 meter-event. Returning Olympians on the refugee team include South Sudanese runners Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, James Nyang Chiengjiek and Rose Nathike Likonyen. Others include swimmer Yusra Mardini from Syria and judo athlete Popole Misenga from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another South Sudanese runner, Matthew Lam Joar, will return to the Refugee Olympic Team as an assistant to the coaching staff. He wants to share his experiences with other refugees.
“I will be cheering for my team – a team that I was part of and still [am] part of,” he said. “We believe they are the best guys because they have the courage to start running. They are world class, running with the best in the world.”
In June, IOC President Thomas Bach said it was important to have refugees join with other Olympic athletes to “send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world.”
Lokoro said he hopes to one day compete for South Sudan in international competitions such as the Olympics.
“One day, one time, if my country settles down, maybe I will go back and represent my country,” he said.
The 29 refugees competing in the Tokyo Games are from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Eritrea. Others are from Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, South Sudan and Sudan.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Mugame Davis Rwakaringi reported on this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
marathon - n. a running race that is 42 kilometers long
jog – v. to run slowly especially for exercise
psychology - n. the way a person or group thinks
coach – v. to give (someone) instructions on what to do or say in a particular situation
courage – n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
solidarity – n. a feeling of unity between people who have the same interests, goals
resilience – n. the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens