RIO DE JANEIRO – Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps is a busy guy. Lots of training, not a lot of time for snapping selfies with fellow athletes. We get it.
But maybe Phelps, competing in his final Summer Games in Rio, could find time to snap one with Rami Anis. Not only because he left him “devastated” after snubbing his photo request several years ago, but because one should make time for a 25-year-old Olympian who escaped war in Syria and is now a member of the first Olympic All-Refugee Team.
The Syrian refugee is a member of a 10-athlete squad that was created via a joint initiative by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The athletes will compete under the Olympic flag and walk in the opening ceremonies together.
Anis left Aleppo in 2011, leaving behind frequent bombings and kidnappings in his hometown and escaping to Turkey. Once there, he continued to follow his passion for swimming, but was told that since he wasn’t a Turkish citizen he could never join their national team. So he rowed himself to Greece in an inflatable dinghy, and eventually made his way to Belgium, which granted him asylum in 2015.
You know, typical Olympic backstory …
In 2009, Anis competed in the 2009 world championships for Syria, where Phelps was also competing. “He asked Phelps if he could have a selfie with him and Phelps said no. He was devastated,” said his coach, Carine Verbauwen, via Agence France-Presse.
“He was so upset, I said to him, ‘One day, we can try to get you to meet Phelps and have a photo with him’. We’re going to try to arrange that here.”
Rami was unaware that his coach had shared that tale with the media. “I never told anyone about this. This is true – in 2009, Michael Phelps didn’t want to take pictures with anyone during the world championship because he was training,” he said through a translator on Tuesday in Rio.
Anis will compete in the 100-meter butterfly at the Rio Games, which means he could meet Phelps both in competition and around the pool.
Surely you can find time for a selfie with one of the most heart-tugging stories of the Olympics, who also happens to be a huge fan.
“He’s a role model, and I hope this time around he will be willing and able to take a picture with me,” said Anis.
Make it so, Phelps.