The Swimmers is a Netflix movie about two refugee sisters, Yusra and Sarah Mardini, who travel from Syria to Greece on a perilous journey.
The film tells the experience of refugees, with contributions from the sisters, and shows the grim reality of what it means to flee a war-torn country and seek shelter abroad. After crossing the near-fatal Aegean Sea, one of the two sisters went on to compete in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Here’s all you need to know about swimmers Yusra and Sara Mardini:
What are bathers?
The Swimmers follows two sisters, Yusra and Sarah Mardini, as they flee their homeland of Syria in 2015 during a bloody civil war. The sisters travel through Lebanon to Turkey and plan to smuggle them to Greece on a dinghy.
When their overcrowded boat’s engine fails in the middle of the Aegean Sea, they and two others are faced with saving the lives of the other refugees on the boat. After their harrowing experience, the two sisters went on to compete in swimming events at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Are swimmers a true story?
Yes, the movie is based on a true story – Sarah, Yousra’s father was a swimming coach and they grew up swimming in their local pool in Damascus. Yousra competed for Syria in Dubai and Turkey in the World Championships.
When the civil war broke out in 2011, everything changed for their sisters – their father was tortured after thinking he was someone else, their house was destroyed by bombing, and an unexploded bomb fell into the swimming pool where Yousra trained.
The family decides that Yusra and Sara should travel to Europe where they will be safer – after arriving in Turkey, they board a boat designed to carry seven people, but there are 18 people on board. During the voyage to Greece, the boat’s engine cut out and the boat began to take on water.
With no other choice, the sisters and two others jumped on the boat and managed to swim and swim alongside the boat, keeping it afloat – all travelers making it safely to the Greek island of Lesbos, about 7.5 miles from the Turkish coast.
Although they reached safety in Europe, this was just the beginning of the sisters’ miraculous journey. They made their way to Germany where they stayed in a refugee centre, and there they met the coach of a local swimming club.
They began training at the club and Yusra earned a spot on the International Olympic Committee’s Refugee Olympic Team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sarah stopped swimming after arriving in Germany due to a shoulder injury.
What happened in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Yousra competed in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly – she won the 100m butterfly against four other swimmers with a time of 1:09.21, ranking 41st out of 45 participants.
She also participated in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (held in 2021 due to the COVID pandemic), flag-bearer for the IOC’s Refugee Olympic Team at the opening ceremony. She swam a time of 1:06.78 in the women’s 100-meter butterfly heats.
Are Yousry and Sarah Mardini in The Swimmers?
Sarah did not appear in the movie, but she and Yousra co-produced it together, and the movie is accurate in their experience. The duo played the real-life sisters Manal and Natalie Issa. Yousra appears as the sexy double to her character in the movie.
The film also features many refugees in the cast – director Sally El Husseiny toldorbes: ‘We actually cast a lot of refugees in the movie who’ve been on the same journey themselves and there were refugees working on the movie behind the scenes and all that. We helped make sure that we were telling The story the right way.”