Olympic athletes have the opportunity to prove their abilities and represent their nation. Above all, the Olympics are a time when many feel a strong sense of pride and enthusiasm for their country.
However, for some athletes, the relationship held with the flag on their uniforms can be complicated.
Olympians competing against the country they reside in is a practice that has gained attention. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) may have been born in a country different than the one they live in. On the other hand, their parents may be from a different country. A series of unique circumstances have allowed athletes to represent their true roots, and discover a new sense of pride in them.
Above all, for TCKs defining a home country to represent can be difficult.
Teams for countries like the United States and Canada fill up with athletes quickly. Because of this, many athletes chose to compete for the country of their heritage.
To compete for a country, The International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter’s only requirement is that the athlete must be considered a “national.” As a result, some athletes move to a different country for a minimum amount of years to become a citizen. Others look to their roots.
In the 2018 Winter Olympics, 6% of the athletes were competing for a country that they are not native to, according to global mobility company CapRelo.
Nigeria makes way to the Winter Olympics
Olympian Simidele Adeagb was born to two Nigerian parents in Canada. She traveled back to live in Nigeria as an infant. Later she returned to Canada at six years old. Adeagb competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in skeleton racing. Importantly, she was also Nigeria’s and Africa’s first female skeleton athlete. Furthermore, she was the first black female Olympian in the sport.
In addition, three of Nigeria’s 2018 bobsled team were U.S.-born athletes: Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga. The team strongly resonated with their Nigerian roots.
“Being Nigerian was always something that was definitely prominent in my childhood, as it is as much as in adulthood. That was the first culture that I’ve ever known,” Omeoga told CNN Sport.
Olympian sisters compete against each other
Sisters Hannah and Marissa Brandt competed in ice hockey in 2018. However, the sisters played for two different countries. Marissa who is competing for South Korea was adopted as an infant from South Korea. Her sister Hannah, competing for the U.S.A., was born to their parents 11 months later.
Growing up, the sisters attended Korean culture camps together.
“I really shied away from it. I didn’t really want to embrace being Korean. I just wanted to fit in and look like my sister and not be different in any way.” Marissa told CNN Sport. Traveling back to South Korea to train let Marissa explore her roots.
Finding pride in heritage
Pole Vaulter Giovanni Lanaro was born and raised in Southern California but competed in Rio for Mexico. In order to compete for Mexico, the only requirement is having a Mexican heritage. Lanaro’s mother who was born in Mexico ultimately qualified Lanaro for the spot on their team.
Lanaro always resonated more with Mexican culture. “We went to a bilingual school and spoke English every day, but Spanish is my mother tongue, and I use it to talk with my girlfriend, who is also Mexican,” Lanaro told World Athletics.