A Syrian refugee who fled to Europe has made his debut with a splash after recording a personal fastest time in the Olympic pool.

Rami Anis completed the race in a top personal time of 54.25 seconds despite having no nationality to represent and being unable to compete in the last Olympics.

The 25-year-old said he had dreamt of representing his "dear" homeland since childhood in a press conference prior to the 100 metre freestyle.

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"When I was a child I would dream about participating in the Olympics and our dream about participating in the Olympics under my country's flag," he said.

"However, I am proud that I am participating today even though I am participating as a refugee Olympic athlete."
 

The crowd cheered the athlete as his name was announced at the start of the race in the Olympic Aquatic Stadium. Mr Anis added that he hoped there would be no more Syrian refugees fleeing their country in four years.

"Obviously, I think about my homeland, Syria, and I do hope that by Tokyo 2020 there will be no refugees, nothing is nearer and dearer to my heart than the homeland," he said.

After severe bombing in his hometown of Aleppo, Mr Anis fled in 2011 and was still seeking asylum at the time of the 2012 Games in London. His uncle swam competitively for Syria and he himself had represented the country in the 2010 Asian Games and elsewhere prior to the outbreak of civil war.

Half of Syria's population - or 11 million people - has been killed or fled their homes in the five years since anti-government demonstrations broke out on the streets. Today more than 13.5 million Syrians remain trapped inside the war-torn country.

Granted asylum in Belgium last year, Mr Anis held the flag for the refugee team which represents those athletes without citizenship at Brazil's opening ceremony this year. He currently trains in Belgium with former Olympic swimmer Carine Verbauwen.

His performance saw him pull ahead of three other competitors in the field overall, taking him to 56th out of 59 places. His next competition is the men's 100 metre butterfly on 11 August.

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