Afghan swimmer Abbas Karimi has set himself a goal of becoming the first member of the refugee team to win a Paralympic medal on Friday, nearly a decade after fleeing his homeland in search of a new life.
Karimi qualified for the men’s 50m butterfly S5 final and later said his “thoughts and prayers” were with the Afghan people after the Taliban takeover.
The swimmer is one of six athletes representing the Paralympic Refugee Team in Tokyo, having fled conflict in Afghanistan at the age of 16 and eventually settling in the United States.
He qualified for Friday’s final with a time of 36.36 seconds in third place in his race, and said his goal was now firmly on Paralympic gold.
“If I’m not looking for a medal, all the training, all the hard work will be just a waste of time,” said the 24-year-old, born without arms.
“We always train for a goal, for a goal, and that’s gold. I’ll go for gold. “
The Afghan team is not in Tokyo after the country’s Paralympic Committee said it was “unable to compete” following the Taliban’s return to power.
The team, made up of just two taekwondo athletes, has since been evacuated from Afghanistan, although officials have declined to say where they ended up.
Karimi said he was focused on his performance, but people from his old homeland were on his mind.
“The Afghans are in my thoughts and in my prayers,” he said.
“I represent refugees and 80 million displaced people, and I represent the world. “
– ‘That says everything’ –
Karimi started swimming at the age of 13 and quickly fell in love with the sport after overcoming her initial fear.
He decided to flee Afghanistan three years later with the help of his brother and flew to Iran before embarking on a perilous journey through the mountains to Turkey.
After four years there, he was granted permission to relocate to the United States and won a silver medal at the 2017 Para Swimming World Championships in Mexico.
Now he is aiming for Paralympic success as a member of the Refugee team, having carried the flag at the opening ceremony with teammate Alia Issa.
“It means everything because I am a refugee,” he said.
“It makes a lot of sense to represent the Paralympic refugee team and to represent millions of displaced people around the world. We just want to give hope to the world. “
Karimi also competes in the S5 50m backstroke in Tokyo.
“It means everything, because for nine years, I gave up everything to get to this level, and here I am at the 2020 Paralympic Games,” he said.
“I’m very, very happy to be here, and I just want to say thank you to the Japanese people and all the volunteers – they’ve been so nice, so kind. “
© 2021 AFP