Popole Misenga: ‘My life really changed after the Olympics’

Story highlights

Popole Misenga was part of the first Olympic refugee team in Rio

He was rescued by Unicef, aged nine, after his mother died

A year on, he has been reacquainted with family members

CNN  — 

At first glance a Rio de Janiero favela would seem an unlikely place to find an athlete who was one of the sporting stories of the last Olympics.

Judoka Popole Misenga – one of the stars of the refugee team at the Rio 2016 Games – lives with his partner and children in the Bras de Pina favela in the northern part of the sprawling Brazilian city.

It’s a place that, on some days, isn’t safe enough for him to jog through. Its streets are frequented by drug dealers and occasional police presence.

In the first two months of 2017, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in Rio’s favelas – a 78% increase on the same period in 2016, according to official figures, reported by Amnesty International.

But Misenga, who ran away from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) team camp at the 2013 World Championships in Rio, remains eternally grateful the city gave him a home, helping him compete at the Summer Games last year.

“My life really changed after the Olympics,” Misenga told CNN. “I have a good life now. I don’t need to worry every day if I can feed my family.

“I’ve been supported by the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and Visa since last year,” he added referring to the US financial services com