Asian Games: Syrian Swimmers Give '200 Percent' for War-Torn Homeland
Syrian swimmer Bayan Jumah, who has a penchant for taking selfies with her idol Michael Phelps, and team-mate Ayman Klzie told AFP on Friday that they felt an added responsibility to push themselves beyond their limits in South Korea, 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometres) away from the savage conflict raging in Syria.
As escalating violence plunges their warn-torn country ever deeper into crisis, two star-struck Syrian swimmers have promised to "give 200 percent" at the Asian Games to help bring a small measure of solace to those suffering back home. (Full Coverage)
Bayan Jumah, who has a penchant for taking selfies with her idol Michael Phelps, and team-mate Ayman Klzie told AFP on Friday that they felt an added responsibility to push themselves beyond their limits in South Korea, 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometres) away from the savage conflict raging in Syria. (Swimming Competition Promises Drama)
"We are very sad about what's happening," Jumah, 20, said in an interview before the start of the swimming competition in Incheon. "When I look at the TV I feel afraid and you think 'Oh my God, how can people live like this?' But in our everyday lives we don't feel that fear."
Jumah, who represented Syria in the women's freestyle at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and Klzie live in Damascus, relatively removed from the threat of Islamic State jihadists.
But both hail from Aleppo in the country's north, which has seen fierce fighting, and still feel the pain of those less fortunate.
"You do feel stress," admitted Klzie, 21, set to compete in his first Asian Games. "I haven't seen my parents for two years. But I think sport can bring people hope and a little peace of mind which can help them forget their problems, even if it's for a little time. For that reason, I train 200 percent."
The pair, two of 45 Syrian athletes who travelled to South Korea, confessed to being a little star-struck after practising alongside superstars such as China's Olympic champion Sun Yang and local hero Park Tae-Hwan, after whom the aquatics arena is named.
"It's a dream to swim with Sun or Park, when you see them in the next line or behind you," smiled Jumah, a few hours before the opening ceremony.
Sun strode out of the venue looking every inch the celebrity dressed in yellow tracksuit and dark shades, Chinese television crews tripping over themselves trying to keep up.
But asked who her favourite swimmer was, Jumah replied in an instant: "Michael Phelps. And Ryan Lochte, because he's so ...," she trailed off as she gesticulated the word for "Yummy!"
Jumah said she had almost turned to jelly after bumping into Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- but still managed to get a photo with the American great as a souvenir.
"I was so young in Beijing," she said. "Just seeing the swimmers. I was like "Wow, it's Michael Phelps. I've gotta take a photo with him. I took a photo with him in Beijing and also in Spain last year at the world championships. I put it on Facebook."
Klzie, who has competed for Syria at beach water polo and will race in the individual medleys and 100 metres butterfly, added: "When I walked into the pool today and saw those top swimmers I got a big buzz -- it gave me an extra burst of power."
But neither athlete can forget the destruction back home.
"It's hard but our lives continue," said Jumah. "It's like the armed forces trying to protect people from danger. As swimmers here I think we are also trying to do that for Syria. We train as hard as we can and give everything. Everything we do is for Syria."