Country hopping isn’t just for travelers anymore – it’s for Olympic level athletes as well.
At the 2018 Olympics, roughly 6 percent of the athletes, or 178 Olympians, are competing for a country they weren’t born in. The only requirement in the Olympic Charter is that an athlete “be a national of the country for which he or she is competing.”
Anyone who wants to compete for a different country must do so three years after they last competed for the previous country.
Ahn Hyun-soo won four Olympic medals – three golds and a bronze – competing as a speed skater for South Korea in 2006. But after disputes and what his father stated was lack of support from the South Korean skating association, Ahn began competing for Russia as Viktor Ahn. After receiving citizenship, he won three more golds and another bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics – seven years after he last competed for his birth country.
Many athletes switch countries because other federations are able to devote more resources to them.
Speedskaters Carlijn Schoutens and Ted-Jan Bloemen are Dutch-American and Dutch-Canadian dual citizens respectively. And both opted to not compete for the Netherlands where they grew up because of how difficult it was to qualify for the powerhouse Dutch speed skating team, which left Sochi with 23 Olympic medals.
Fellow speed skater Maame Biney took the opposite approach. She was born in Ghana, but moved to the United States when she was five. Biney qualified as the first African-American woman and will compete in the 500m and 1500m events in PyeongChang.
And host countries don’t shy away from foreign athletes. According to CapRelo, 18 athletes from the Korean delegation are not Korean. They include ice dancers Alexander Gamelin (American) and Kirill Minov (Russia), both of whom switched countries to compete in the Olympics with their South Korean-born partners. Biathletes Anna Frolina and Timofey Lapshin are also among the athletes who’ve to representing South Korea in time to compete in PyeongChang.
Switching countries also allows athletes the chance to live out their Olympic dreams
Twelve different countries in PyeongChang have athletes exclusively born in other countries – including Tonga, Nigeria, Bermuda and Thailand.
Summer and winter Olympic flag bearer Pita Nikolas Taufatofua, better known as the shirtless Tongan, was actually born in Australia. The three members of the Nigerian bobsledding team – Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeogaz – were all born in the United States.
But no matter the country they were born in, represent or have represented, they’ll all be vying for an Olympic medal.