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.


More US & Canada stories