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Cyrille Tchatchet aiming to "send a message of hope" to other refugees

Cyrille Tchatchet aiming to
© Reuters
The 25-year-old Cameroonian is part of the Refugee Olympic Team for Tokyo.

Seven years after sneaking out of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games with just a pair of shoes and a weightlifting belt to his name, Cyrille Tchatchet is preparing to pack his bags for Tokyo as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

The Cameroonian teenager’s terror at the prospect of returning to his homeland led him to leave his team’s hotel shortly after he had secured a fifth-place finish in the men’s 85kg category at the Games, and spend a night sleeping rough on the streets.

Tchatchet’s increasingly desperate journey took him to Brighton – “the farthest possible place” on the UK mainland – where, having slept under a bridge near the seafront for a number of weeks, he became consumed by the desire to take his own life.

Cyrille Tchatchet overcame his battle with depression and is now a mental health nurse (UNHCR/Béla Szandelszky)

“One morning I was thinking of what I could do to kill myself,” Tchatchet, now 25, told the PA news agency. “I remember walking to this cliff. I’m sure I would have jumped, to be honest. There was a wire fence and there was a sign on it for the Samaritans. That sign is what saved me.”

Tchatchet’s subsequent arrest and detention concluded in him gaining asylum in 2016, whereupon he trained and qualified as a mental health nurse within the NHS. He believes the 29-strong Refugee Team presents a message of hope for others around the world who may be afflicted by similar uncertainties.

“If we win medals that’s great, and if we don’t, that’s fine,” said Tchatchet. “It’s more about sending a message of hope, a message of solidarity that being a refugee doesn’t mean the end.

“I understand that a lot of refugees have to start from scratch when you get to a new country. Some have to learn a new language and it is very difficult. It is to show the whole world, and the refugees and displaced people out there, that it’s possible. It could seem difficult now, but there is hope.”

Mindful of the family members in his homeland, with whom he remains in regular contact via social media, Tchatchet is reluctant to discuss the specifics that compelled him to decide to head out into the unfamiliar Glasgow night rather than prepare for the plane ride home.

“It wasn’t really planned, it was quite sudden,” he recalled. “I competed on July 28 and the following day I picked up my bag and left. The only thing I took with me was my training bag which contained my shoes and my (weightlifting) belt. I didn’t know anywhere in Glasgow. I just slept in a corner somewhere.”

The following day, Tchatchet hitched a lift to London, and then to Brighton, where his time of sleeping rough and begging for food stretched from days into weeks, until the apparent hopelessness of his predicament became almost too much to bear.

“I started talking to this lady on the phone for a long time,” recalled Tchatchet of his attempt to establish one final thread of hope. “I was looking down (the cliff) when I was talking to her, thinking which side I was going to jump. It was real. I was in a very bad state at that point.

“She was asking me my location, so I was describing where I am, and then suddenly two police cars were behind me. And that’s how they convinced me to come back round the fence.”

Tchatchet was taken to a local police station where he was formally arrested for breaching immigration rules. It was the start of a tortuous process of failed appeals and sporadic incarceration, including a period at the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow, until he was finally granted asylum two years later.

Towards the end of the process he was moved to Birmingham, where he Googled a local weightlifting club and began his reintroduction to the sport. Competing in regional and national events, he went on to set four domestic records in the 96kg and 102kg categories that he still holds.

Nevertheless, Tchatchet continued to struggle with depression, and was placed on medication by his doctor, an experience that ultimately impelled him to return to London to train and qualify as a mental health nurse, specialising in the physical health of patients.

Cyrille Tchatchet
Cyrille Tchatchet is the lead physical health nurse on the Harrow Community Mental Health team (UNHCR/Béla Szandelszky)

As his record-breaking weightlifting exploits continued, he was recognised and contacted by the IOC, which granted him a solidarity scholarship. It was Tchatchet’s first step on the road that would lead him to being selected as part of the second Refugee Team for Tokyo.

“I was so happy,” said Tchatchet, who is marking Refugee Week by making final preparations to meet up with his team-mates in Qatar this month prior to the Games, this time with more than just the pair of shoes and the weightlifting belt with which he decamped onto the Glasgow streets.

“It just shows that there is a reason why we do things. I have spent the last five or six years without an international passport, but it has still helped me towards achieving my biggest dream, which is to go to the Olympic Games.”

:: Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org

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Olympic medal table header
CountryGold medalSilver MedalBronze MedalT
ChinaChina21131246
JapanJapan175830
United StatesUnited States16171346
Olympics flagOlympic Athletes from Russia11151137
AustraliaAustralia1031427
Great BritainGreat Britain891128
Today's Olympic highlights header

Sunday's key events


GOLF
· The men's golf reaches its conclusion, with plenty of players still in medal contention. Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama is one shot off Xander Schauffele's lead, while Great Britain's Paul Casey is another shot further back and Tommy Fleetwood is also in the mix (11.30pm-8am)

CYCLING - BMX
· Great Britain have already made history in the BMX events in Tokyo, something Charlotte Worthington and Declan Brooks will be looking to add to in the women's (2.10am) and men's (3.10am) freestyle finals

SWIMMING
· The final day of swimming action begins with the men's 50m freestyle final. Ben Proud could add to a medal-laden Games in the pool for Team GB so far, although he is up against USA's Caeleb Dressel, who is going for his fourth gold in Tokyo (2.30am)
· From sprint to endurance, Great Britain's second medal hope of the day comes through Daniel Jervis in the men's 1500m freestyle final (2.44am)
· Team GB will again be among the heavy favourites for gold in the last swimming event of the Games - the men's 4x100m medley relay final - having won the mixed event in a world record time on Saturday (3.36am)

BOXING
· Already guaranteed at least a bronze, Pat McCormack takes part in the men's welterweight semi-final against Ireland's Aidan Walsh with a spot in the gold medal final at stake (4.03am)
· Ben Whittaker is also in the semi-finals of the men's light heavyweight and will be looking to continue Team GB's success in the ring (4.51am)

TENNIS
· There will be a surprise on the top of the men's tennis podium after Novak Djokovic missed out on a medal altogether. Alexander Zverev takes on Karen Khachanov in the second match on Centre Court at the Ariake Tennis Park (7am-2pm)

SAILING
· Alison Young will be going for gold in the women's laser radial medal race (7.33am)

ARTISTIC GYMNASTICS
· Team GB's Max Whitlock will look to defend his 2016 Olympic title in the men's pommel horse final (10.41am)

ATHLETICS
· The men's high jump final includes GB's Tom Gale, although his chances of a medal look bleak (11.10am)
· So often the blue-riband event of the Olympics, the men's 100m final takes place as the world's fastest bid to be crowned Usain Bolt's successor. Three Brits have made it into the semi-finals (11.15am-11.32am), and the final looks wide open after an underwhelming display by favourite Trayvon Bromell on Saturday (1.50pm)

HOCKEY
· Great Britain face India in the men's quarter-final (1pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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