Cultural Fluidity in the 2016 United States Olympics Team

The Olympics have always been a celebration of nationalism and pride. Athletes compete with high hopes of earning the respect and admiration of their home nation. Over the past century, athletes have been donning the national colors and uniforms of countries they are not from. The Olympic Charter reports that an athlete only needs to be a national of the country for which he or she is competing. With excessive amounts of talent to spare, becoming a national isn’t exactly a difficult task for world-renowned athletes. Take, for example, the track and field team of the United States. This team alone had eleven athletes who hail from all over the world but still represented the United States of America on the world stage.

Hassan Mead, Olympics Star

Image of Hassan Mead at the 2016 Olympics
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Hassan Mead, born in Borama, Somalia, has been competing for Team USA in the 5000m run. As detailed by USA Track and Field, Mead “spent his childhood in Somalia before moving to Minnesota at age nine.” Mead is not only an Olympic athlete, but he is also one of the ever-growing numbers of people who can call themselves a Third Culture Kid (TCK). TCKs are people who are globally mobile and have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside of their parent’s culture, Mead is a TCK.

Mead’s Career

Mead’s Olympic career has been heavily influenced by his TCK experience. In an interview with Runners World Mead describes how difficult immigrating to the United States of America was at age 10. He describes how he always liked running, but he wasn’t able to because of low grades. His grades were a result of his disconnect from the English language. Mead was eventually allowed to run track which resulted in him forming relationships with his classmates and adapting to U.S. life. “I think sports protected me as much as it opened the doors for me…I still didn’t fit in, but when it came to sports, I felt like I was just as good as everyone else,” he said in the article.

“It was there, in my sixth-grade gym class, when my teachers realized I was good at running. The students had to run a mile, and with any additional time, we could play whatever sport we wanted. I figured, why run and walk when I could just run the whole thing in six or eight minutes and play basketball afterward”?

Hassan Mead in an interview with Runners World.

Over the past century, Olympic athletes have been donning the national colors and uniforms of countries that they are not actually from. Sports was a way for Hassan Mead to connect with a culture that was foreign to him, which led to him choosing to represent the U.S. during the Olympic games. Third Culture Kids make up a notable portion of the athletes during the quadrennial event. According to The Atlantic, “In the eyes of the athletes competing under the flag of a country that’s not home, they’re competing in the Olympic spirit as much as anyone else.”

Meb Keflezighi, Track Expert

Image of Meb Keflezigi running in the 2009 London Marathon.
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Meb Keflezighi is a force to be reckoned with on the United States Olympic Track and Field team. His accomplishments have been legendary, some the first to ever be done. According to New York Road Runner Media Center (NYRR), Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon in 2014. Keflezighi became the first American male Boston champion since 1983. Additionally, he has won the New York City Marathon and an Olympic medal. Notably, he is the first man in history to ever accomplish all three. Today, Keflezighi has his own foundation. According to his website, he now works as a motivational speaker and promotes youth health and education. 

Although Keflezighi competed tremendously well for the U.S., it is not his birthplace, and he is considered to be an expatriate. An expatriate is someone who is temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than the one of their nationality.

Born in a small village in Asmara, Eritrea, Keflezighi had no access to electricity, let alone a gold medal to call his own. His parents left the country with him and his 10 siblings to escape mandatory military service in a war with Ethiopia. They settled in San Diego, Calif., where Keflezighi discovered his interest in running. 

Keflezighi’s Career

His journey to athletic stardom began primarily with his love of running, and then with his full-ride scholarship to the University of Calif., Los Angeles (UCLA). He won UCLA a total of four championships in Track and Field according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association and held a record in the 10,000-meter for 9 consecutive years. Merhawi Keflezighi, said of his brother, “He’s brought light into so many people’s lives. He’s inspiring.” 

Keflezighi became a U.S. citizen in 1998, and truly embraced his role as a leader both on and off the track and field Olympic team. In his book, he says, “But I also realize that winning doesn’t always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself. One of my greatest joys is inspiring other people to perform at their best.”

Morolake Akinosun, Track and Field Queen

Image of Morolake Akinosun at London 2017 Summer Olympics.
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Morolake Akinosun is a Nigerian-born U.S. track and field runner, an Olympic gold medalist and World Championships gold medalist. She is of Yoruba Nigerian descent and was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She migrated to the United States with her family just two years after she was born. Akinosun attended the University of Illinois due to a scholarship and became a two-time Big 10 champion. According to Mile Split USA, she also holds the state record for the 100-meter dash in Illinois. She then transferred to the University of Texas to complete her collegiate track career. At Texas, she became very successful and was “only the second woman in history to score in four events at an NCAA Outdoor Championships in consecutive seasons.” She became a six-time Big 12 Champion and a 26 time All-American. Later she signed a professional contract with Nike Athletics.

Morolake’s Career

The Olympics were a huge success in Akinosun’s career, the point where all the hard work paid off. She won in the 4×100 relay in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and in 2017, she won gold as a World Champion in London for the 60-meter dash. In a letter she wrote to herself, Akinosun said, “It’s all worth it. Keep chasing your dreams and don’t let anything or anyone stand in your way.”

Her dreams were fulfilled at the Olympics and then again in London but she still has more. Just two years after the Olympics, she tore her Achilles tendon at the finish of a 60-meter race and immediately had surgery. From then on, she has been in ‘rehab for life’ traveling all over Europe and the world. Currently, she is back in Texas training for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021. Akinosun still thinks her best is yet to come and we will all be waiting to see the 26-year-old accomplish greatness.

Kerron Clement, Olympics All Star

Image of Kerron Clement at 2016 Rio Olympics.
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Kerron Clement is a gold medal-winning Trinidadian track star. He represented the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics. Clement moved to the United States with his parents at just 13 years-old and this is where his career started. He found his love for track and field throughout sports in high school.

“Clement came across a hurdle in the middle of a field and a kid challenged him to jump it. So he did, with perfect form,” said writer  BRITNI DE LA CRETAZ in her GQ Magazine article. In high school, he won many meets and eventually was recruited to the University of Florida. 

While he and his parents were from Trinidad, they decided to make the move to the U.S, making him a TCK.

Clement’s Career

Growing up in the U.S. has given Clement many accomplishments within his career. He has won a number of Olympic gold medals for his specialties, the 400-meter relay and the 4×400 meter relay. Also, breaking the world record with the 400-meter indoor sprint. 

Clement has also come out as gay which affected his career tremendously. He has faced a lot of challenges with the way that he expresses himself and the way that others view him. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Nick Morrow, who is interim communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, says,

“Kerron’s visibility is vitally important because it helps encourage the world of sports to continue moving the needle toward greater acceptance. And it shows other LGBTQ athletes what is possible. Kerron’s bravery and openness will encourage others to follow in his footsteps, and work toward a more equal playing field for all.”

Nick Morrow, Interim Communications Director for the Human Rights Campaign

Clement hopes to be the person that shows other people with his identity that being in any career is possible and that these hurdles of intersectionality are getting easier to jump.

Hillary Bor, Olympic Serviceman

SGT Hillary Bor
Photo labeled for reuse. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Hillary Bor is a Kenya-born U.S. Army soldier, as well as, an Olympian. Born in Eldoret, Kenya, Bor got his start in track and field in high school. He and his two brothers received scholarships to come to the U.S. to participate in collegiate sports. All three Bor siblings became expatriates after this scholarship. He is a graduate of Iowa State University and a Sergeant in the Army. He represented the United States at the 2016 Olympics.

According to Team USA, he obtained U.S. citizenship through the U.S. Army. Stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bor is serving his new country. In an interview with Colorado Classic, Bor says, “The U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program is the best program for the Army, especially in Colorado Springs, because it gives other soldiers the chance to train apart while being a soldier at the same time.”

Rio 2016

The 2016 Olympics was not only a record-breaking year for cultural fluidity but also for racial diversity. Some of the most popular sports were dominated by those whose faces are not often seen. For a more in-depth look at the racial diversity of the 2016 summer games check out: Rio 2016: Underrepresented Populations Dominate In Traditional Olympic Sports. Hopefully, the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held on July 23, 2021, will be even more racially and culturally diverse.


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