From the beginning…
My earliest memory of the Olympics was when I was a child watching the Athens Games, 2004. I had just started getting into sport and I was inspired to see athletes from all over the world competing against each other. This inspired me to take cycling seriously as a kid. Watching the Olympics on our very small TV was the beginning of a childhood dream that one day I would compete in the Olympics. Little did I know that I would achieve this dream.
After being selected to compete in Tokyo 2020, I started training differently. I started by competing in a race in Switzerland, my new home, where I met the president of the Olympic Committee at the finish line. It was a huge motivation ahead of the games. It was great to see that the Olympic Committee believed in me.
The first stop was Doha, Qatar where we had some problems. Due to Covid-19 procedures, we were asked to spend five days in Doha, and we were told we might not be able to fly to Tokyo if any athletes return a positive Covid test. While in Doha I tried to remain positive and the only way to do so was to train. After five stressful days where cycling was my only escape, we were finally given the OK to fly.
We made it. Tokyo 2020
I remember thinking that Tokyo is a very beautiful city from the passenger window on the shuttle bus from the airport to the Olympic Village. We were not allowed to leave the Village and I was staying in the same hotel with all the other cyclists who were competing in the races. The beautiful thing about the Olympics is that you feel everyone is equal regardless of age, sex, colour or nationality, or in my case, the lack of nationality. Staying at the hotel with the top cyclists made me a better cyclist. I learned a lot from talking to everyone, and everyone was very friendly. We ate together and trained together whenever we had the chance.
The opening ceremony was a very emotional day for me. One to remember. It was a very long day and I had a lot of different feelings; pride, determination, resilience, fear and love. I was one of 29 refugee athletes representing all the refugees around the world. The moment we stepped into the stadium and I saw the camera lights and actions, I was fighting the tears in my eyes. I could see many memories flashing in my head; My dad who passed away while I was in Switzerland, my brother Samer who’s the reason behind me starting this sport, my family who supported me in every race. I miss them all. I knew my family were watching me through the small TV they have, and I was hoping my dad was smiling at me from above there seeing his son competing and achieving his dream. I started cycling in the rough streets of Aleppo where we did not have cycling lanes, I had to flee due to war, was separated from my family, missed my father’s funeral, and now I am achieving my dream. I felt lucky, very few people in this world get the chance to achieve their dreams. I just wished my dad was alive to see it.
When the ceremony was over, I had to focus on the race and leave all these emotions in the hotel room. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to leave the Olympic Village and we had very few chances to train. I couldn’t sleep well the night before the race cause I was planning my strategy.
And then it was race day. I went to the start-finish line and started warming up.
The Olympic Time Trial
The first 4 km of the race were fast. I reached 80 km/h and then there were some technical corners so I had to slow down again. The most difficult part was the 6 km, steep hill. Humidity was killing me and I wasn’t used to racing in such conditions. This had drained me and made me slow down but I knew I would never quit. Getting to the finish line was the only thing on my mind now. After the first lap, I thought I was OK, but the second lap was even harder than the first one. The challenge was now physical and mental but I don’t quit. I kept going and gave it my all until I reached the finish line, where I felt the chip on my shoulder disappear. Before crossing the line, I was thinking of my race, family, friends, finishing, representing and this came with pressure, but I also felt relief. The first thing that came to my mind was my father’s voice saying “ I am proud of you son” as he used to say, I also thought of my brother Samer and how he would usually be shouting encouragement at the top of his voice, and how I wished to hug him.
My result was not very good, but it was a good start for me. This was a great learning experience that will only make me a stronger and better cyclist. The boy who was inspired by Athens in 2004 was competing in Tokyo in 2020 and I only hope I made refugees around the world proud. I hope this sends a message to kids around the world that they too could compete if they work hard. I just wish they wouldn’t be refugees, and everyone would be happy at home.
I would like to thank all the people who have supported me in my career so far. Pursuing dreams is a beautiful thing and achieving them is even sweeter. Tokyo 2020 was my first Olympics, but it won’t be my last. Paris 2024 next. I will see you at the finish line.