As the Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. is well-represented by its citizens – both native and foreign born. Forty-seven of those competing on Team USA were born outside of the country.
Some like basketball star Kyrie Irving, Boyd Martin who competes in equestrian, rugby player Madison Hughes, and water polo player Tony Azevedo were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents. Others, like sailor Bora Gulari, tennis player Denis Kudla, and fencer Dagmara Wozniak, came to the U.S. as children with their parents. Still other Olympians, like canoeist Michal Smolen, immigrated for college or as adults.
Other athletes are the children of immigrants who came to the U.S. to make a better life for their families. Their stories remind us how immigrants come from all over the world and contribute their talents to the U.S.
Here are some New American athletes to watch:
- Hillary Bor, Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir, and Leonard Korir were all born in Kenya. Since coming to the U.S., they enlisted in the Army, train with the military’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), acquired U.S. citizenship, and will compete for the U.S. in track and field. According to WCAP supervisor Captain Matthew Hickey, “It’s a pretty humbling moment to think that somebody would want to leave their country and come to yours and do so to the degree in which they would die for something they haven’t even been a part of yet.” Bor’s brother also joined the Army and is now serving in Afghanistan.
- S. shooter Enkelejda Shehaj competed for her native Albania for many years. She feared fleeing “because family would have consequences. Like my parents would go to jail. I always knew what would happen. I’ve heard stories from other people that their kids being abroad, Albania, with competitions, they were in danger. They would send them in the worst places to live and with no electricity or not even minimum things that you need to be alive.” She eventually fled to the U.S. in 1999 and became a citizen in 2012.
- Runner Charles Jock was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia after his parents fled civil war in Sudan. He came to the U.S. with his family at age three where they were granted asylum and settled in San Diego.
- Nick Delpopolo, who competes in Judo was born Petra Perovic in Montenegro where he spent his first 21 months in a dirt-floor orphanage. He was adopted by American parents and grew up in New Jersey.
- Jay Shi, who is on the shooting team, came to the U.S. for medical treatment at age 11 after suffering an eye injury. He and his family stayed and became U.S. citizens.
- Gymnast Danell Leyva was born in Cuba. His family defected to the U.S. when he was a baby.
All members of Team USA–foreign born and native born alike–will proudly represent their country in the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
Photo by Andy Miah.