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Yusra Mardini
Under Armour

‘I shouldn’t be alive:’ Olympic refugee team swimmer stars in powerful video

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Olympic refugee team swimmer Yusra Mardini signed with Under Armour and starred in a video published by the apparel company Thursday, telling her story of fleeing Syria in August 2015.

“I shouldn’t be alive today,” Mardini said in the video. “I should have been killed by the bomb that hit the pool in Damascus. I should have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. I should have been one of the many refugees who died along the way, but I am here, alive, because I kept moving. So many things tried to stop me, to break me. So many times something whispered, ‘This, now this, will defeat you.’ But I kept moving. Moving as I left my family behind. Moving through the fear when I was hiding in the forest. Moving through the sea, pulling a boat through the waves. Now, when my exhaustion rises, I remember. And my strength just rises higher. It says greater things than this have tried to stop me, and I keep moving.”

Mardini, 19, swam in Rio about one year after swimming for her life for three hours in the Aegean Sea while fleeing Damascus for Europe. She was one of 10 athletes on the Olympic refugee team.

In fleeing, Mardini, her sister and others went first to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Mardini has told the story of their hazardous journey on the Aegean Sea many times, of swimming for her life when the overcrowded inflatable dinghy started taking on water even after their luggage was thrown overboard.

“The engine broke and we had to swim three-plus hours to arrive to the other side. Me and my sister and two guys,” Mardini said. “My sister jumped in the beginning and then I jumped after her. We didn’t swim normally, but we had a hand on the boat and hand swimming and then kicked.”

Through their efforts dragging the boat, they eventually made it to the Greek island of Lesbos. An overland trek followed through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, where she experienced the worst conditions along her weeks-long journey. They hid from police, got arrested at borders, had belongings stolen and lost money on tickets as authorities refused to let trains pass.

“Hungary was awful. It was really hard,” Mardini said. “Hungary was the biggest fear for all the refugees.”

Eventually, the Mardinis made it to Berlin, where an Egyptian translator at their refugee shelter put them in touch with a local swimming club. A coach quickly realized Mardini’s potential and helped her make the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team for Rio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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VIDEO: Phelps says he could come back if he wanted to

Michael Phelps Under Armour spot named best ad of 2016

Michael Phelps
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Before Michael Phelps collected five golds and a silver in Rio, for a total of 28 career Olympic medals, he decided to do something he’d never done before: commit himself 100 percent to his swimming training for, he told Bob Costas, the first time in his life.

His grueling journey from retirement back to the top of the sport was captured in a powerful 90-second Under Armour ad called “Rule Yourself.” The spot also earned him another honor: star of the best ad of the year, according to Adweek.

Adweek ranked “Rule Yourself” first in their list of the 10 best ads of 2016. They praised the ad for “using darkness to paradoxically shed new light on one of the planet’s biggest stars—and the physical and psychological cost of dedicating one’s life to swimming at the highest level.”

Set to The Kills’ “The Last Goodbye,” the ad made Phelps and his now-wife, Nicole Johnson, tear up when they viewed the finished product for the first time.

The creative director of Droga5, the ad agency that produced the ad, told Adweek, “When you hear [Phelps] talk about life, what it was like to be in a pool since a super-young age—the hard work, the loneliness—you sympathize with this man. It became easy to root for him, to make something that reflected everything he had gone through.”

Phelps agreed the spot was true to life.

“It showed exactly how I prepare,” he told Adweek. “The hard work pays off if you do it, and if you do it well. As long as you’re literally busting your butt every single day, you’ll see the goal at the end of the road.”

The ad concludes with the tag line, “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.

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Olympic equipment designers aim to evolve: “Our goal is to make the rules change”

Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images
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The ability of technology to lift elite athletes to even higher levels of performance is nothing new, but the way gear makers keep ahead of the rule creators remains, in some ways, a true marvel.

Records were famously — or infamously — obliterated by skintight body suits at the 2008 Games. Just because those suits were banned doesn’t mean suit designs put their tails between their legs and headed home.

MORE: Speedo unveils USA suits

And it’s not just swimming. There are some simply stunning, “I wouldn’t have thought of that” stories coming ahead the games. One company even designed sprint tape to be affixed to runners’ bodies to increase speed.

So, yeah, from suits designed for the breast stroke to tiny energy-preserving coils in distance running shoes, science will loom large in Rio. The gear designers appreciate the challenge of staying ahead of the trends.

They even relish it.

From the Associated Press:

“We make sure we stay inside those rules, but we will get to the very edge of them if we can,” said Adam Clement, senior creative director for team sports at Under Armour. “Our goal is to innovate in a way that ultimately makes the Olympic rules change. We’ll adjust, but we’ll feel proud of that accomplishment.”