America's adopted athletes


Many of the men and women representing the US Olympic team started their lives somewhere else. Here are six immigrant Olympians hoping to bring home gold for the USA.

  • Meb KeflegizhiMeb Keflezighi
  • Tony GunawanTony Gunawan
  • Khatuna LorigKhatuna Lorig
  • Nick DelpopoloNick Delpopolo
  • Mariya KorolevaMariya Koroleva
  • Danell LeyvaDanell Leyva
  • Meb Keflezighi Marathon

    After a brutal civil war broke out in his home country of Eritrea, a young Meb Keflezighi fled with his family to Italy. When they were granted refugee status by the US, they relocated to San Diego. Now, he's in the record books for being the oldest man to win the US trials for the marathon. He hopes to bring home the gold after winning the silver medal in 2004.

    Eritrea map
    Meb Keflezighi
    • 130 Miles run a week
    • 1987 Came to the US
    • 7,000 Altitude in feet at which he trains
    • 7 Grade in school when he realised he was a fast runner
  • Tony Gunawan Badminton

    At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Gunawan took home the gold in doubles badminton for his home country of Indonesia. One year later he began coaching and competing with the US team, but only qualified for the Olympics this year after becoming a citizen. His doubles partner, Howard Bach, is also an adopted athlete. Bach was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the US at aged 3.

    Indonesia map
    Tony Gunawan
    • 12 Years since he last competed in the Olympics
    • 2002 Came to the US
    • 16 Feathers used in an Olympic badminton shuttlecock
    • 7 Days a week spend coaching
  • Khatuna Lorig Archery

    As soon as she received US citizenship, Lorig placed a call to the US Olympic committee to discuss competing. She is the only athlete to have represented three teams in the Olympics, first representing the United Soviet Team in 1992, when she won the bronze medal. In 1996 and 2000 she competed for her home country of Georgia, and in 2008 she represented the US in Beijing.

    Georgia map
    Khatuna Lorig
    • 1996 Came to the US
    • 200 Speed at which an archery arrow can travel, in miles per hour
    • 1 Starlet trained - Jennifer Lawrence for her role in the Hunger Games
    • 12 Age when she first tried archery
  • Nick Delpopolo Judo

    Born in Belgrade, Delpopolo spent the first 21 months of his life in a crowded, crumbling Montenegro orphanage. Then, he was adopted by a couple from New Jersey and moved to the US. Now he's ranked number 1 in the US and number 16 internationally in Judo. He has located his birth parents, but is determined to contact them only after he's made even more of a name for himself.

    Montenegro map
    Nick Delpopolo
    • 83 Ranking positions moved up during his 2012 comeback
    • 1991 Came to the US
    • 1964 Year the Olympics first included Judo
    • 0 Weapons used in Jujitsu, on which Judo is based
  • Mariya Koroleva Synchronised Swimming

    Soon after she moved to the United States from Russia for her father's career, a young Koroleva tried her hand at synchronised swimming as a way to fit in. Though she soon showed enough promise to consider training for the Olympics, she faced another obstacle on her path to gold: Koroleva says her biggest challenge was the several years it took to become a US citizen and qualify for the US National Team.

    Russia map
    Mariya Koroleva
    • 2 Synchro-related surgeries
    • 1999 Came to the US
    • 5 Hours a day spent treading water
    • 3 Number of minutes, on average, a synchronised swimmer can hold her breath under water
  • Danell Leyva Gymnastics

    Leyva's mother and step-father were both noted gymnasts in Cuba, competing on the national team. Now, they run a gym in Miami, where Leyva immigrated as a child and currently trains. The world champion on the parallel bars, Leyva considers his best event to be the high bar.

    Cuba map
    Danell Leyva
    • 1993 Came to the US
    • 20 Years since a US men's gymnast won a gold medal for an individual event
    • 7 Gold medals won in US championships
    • 10,972 Followers on his twitter account @DanellJLeyva

Produced by: Franz Strasser, Bill McKenna, Kate Dailey, David Botti, Erin Cauchi and Lynsea Garrison.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    @thomaswang and @sreif78:
    It's an election year. Every politician is using everything possible to lambast their opponents, and opposition to manufacturing moving to China is part of every one of their's rhetoric.
    But no politician wants to look outright racist or anti-immigration (if they want to get to the top), and so will support the "diversity of Team USA".
    Politics. Getting ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Not new, GB did it with a South African (White) during the height of anti-aparthied I think Mrs T was in charge at the time. Incidentally after the games the athlete re-nounced her GB nationality, I recall she never got a medal so no suprise! Nope, its all wrong guys, unless indigenous country is full of strife aka Syria...

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    This is a good bit of journalism. As we enter a storm of nationalism (and very likely a new war in the middle east), this allows us to consider just how artificial a nation is, and how important individuals are.

    As we slaughter the Iranians in coming months, be sure to wave your flag, and to chant the name of you favorite multinational corporation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    What happen to Sanya Richard Ross their biggest gold medal treat, she is from Jamaica

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I am pretty certain that many teams will have similar stories and they are wonderful stories. It is important to recognise the contribution of migrants wherever they are. To migrate is simply, just as natural as staying put. I hardly think the British press is here making any other point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @thomaswang: Because Mr. Wang, the team is representing the USA and some feel, as do I, that their uniforms should be made here, with pride for them to represent us. Besides, we don't trust Commies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    This is blatantly just a frankly childish way of deflecting criticism, which Auntie knows is coming, of the so-called 'Plastic Brits' in the GB Team;

    'Um, oh - but what about the USA? They're just as bad as we are...'

    Why not produce an *honest* discussion piece about athletes who represent adopted countries? Er, yeah - but then we'd have to mention TeamGB... Nationalism in a funny disguise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    A few days ago there was a story of US lawmakers objecting to the US Olympic team wearing their sports gear made in China.

    I wonder why they don't object to these people representing the US!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I do not like word adopted.Meb chose USA as his homeland and I applaud his desicion.Great to see immigrant/refugees are in news for right reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I am tutoring two refugees from Eritrea. Is a text transcript available for the Adopted Athletes piece? I want my students to read the segment about Meb. Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @barbaragordon. It would be global news if BBC had done a piece about British athletes. If the British valued their own adopted athletes, they would've done a piece about them. I recall US born Tiffany Porter, after being made UK captain for the EU athletic games last year, being asked by the british press if she could sing the UK anthem. She was even referred to as a Plastic Brit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I agree with LucyJ that the majority of TeamUSA athletes at the London olympics are American-born. I'm sure there are many athletes on the UK team that are foreign-born (but ofcourse the BBC likes to only talk about USA).

    With that said, the BBC is nothing but a proganda machine that promotes multiculturalism and the declije of western civilization.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Apologies - Natalia Valeeva, although she did compete for Moldova, didn't do so at the Olympics. But my comment about Zhang JuanJuan stands!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    BBC, do your research!
    Natalia Valeeva (Khatuna Lorig's Soviet Union team mate in 1992) qualified for her 6th Olympics this year, for Italy, having also previously competed for the Soviet Union and Moldova.
    And despite now displaying a photo of her, could you change Zhang Juan Juan's event to Women's Archery (rather than Men's)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @britgurl. The piece mentioned the "adopted" US athletes as being eligible after obtaining US citizenship. Did Yamile Aldama have british citizenship from birth. She has competed for Cuba and Sudan. The British press should celebrate their athletes and stop looking at other countries.
    FYI, Mo Farah was conceived after his dad met a Somali lady while holidaying and he came to the UK thru Djibouti.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This is a wonderful piece that I found very uplifting. It is interesting that the writer chose the term 'Adopted' athlete. From what I can tell these folks were not adopted by the United States but chose to become citizens of my homeland by their own free will. I am proud that such people selected my country as their own!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Thank you for sharing the amazing story of USA Judo Olympian Nick Delpopolo!! I love the piece

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Meanwhile, many people in the UK remain steadfastly opposed to immigration despite the overwhelming evidence, including that in a recent report by the Government's Office for Budget Responsibility, described by, that it is to our benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @Grabonlee. Actually Mo Farah is half british, his father is English so is entitled to compete as a British Citizen. Yamile Aldama is also a british Citizen, took her 10 years to get it.
    What issue you have with the british press i don't know. You get a very unbiased view, unlike American AP, when you only find out about something if americans are involved.
    Ohh and Btw knives are banned as guns

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Thank you Down The Shore for your kind comments. I may be a bit biased since my grandparents were British, but there is a lot of anticipation about the London games. Best of luck - warm regards from this side of the Atlantic.


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