The pageantry of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games this past Friday, August 5th, coalesced representatives of 207 nations in astounding fashion. As the games commenced, the world’s finest athletes are displaying their prowess while they proudly represent their countries in the hunt for gold. As team USA takes to the track, court, or pool this summer, an astonishing 44 foreign born athletes are donning the stars and stripes hailing from 28 native countries. This marks the second consecutive time that more than 40 U.S athletes are immigrants ascending from 27 in the 2004 games.
They represent a diverse group, from the 20 year old Italian born Luca Cupido, to Meb Keflezighi, originally a refugee from Eritrea who, at 41 will become the oldest U.S Olympic distance runner in history. Several of these athletes represent the U.S in more ways than one. Kenyan born athletes Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Hillary Bor, and Leonard Korir are all members of the U.S Army, devoting their time and efforts to their adoptive nation on multiple fronts.
These athletes are an exemplification of the positive impact migrants bring to their new countries, not only living a better life for themselves, but helping there adoptive nation. Their tales are the American dream in a nation that too often forgets its origins as the melting pot. Immigrants augment the life force of our country not just as Olympians but in every profession imaginable. Taking a deeper look at the athletes under the U.S. flag reveals stories of hope and resilience. In some cases, they have risen from poverty or conflict to representing the U.S. at the highest level. Nick Delpopolo, adopted from an orphanage in Montenegro, and past Olympian Lopez Lomong who spent 10 years in a Sudanese refugee camp, are just a couple of examples. While these athletes have found home in the U.S., countless refugees and migrants around the globe are left hoping.
For 10 athletes in Rio, home is under the Olympic flag. Hailing from South Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, they represent the first ever Olympic Refugee team. The Refugee team should help elucidate the true breadth of the global refugee crisis, and while they are not expected to win gold, they represent something more profound. As reported by The Guardian’s Gerard Meagher, IOC President Thomas Bach stated that along with helping raise awareness, “these refugee athletes will show the world that, despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”
Also helping bring light to migrants is Mini’s “Defy Labels” commercial campaign which is running during the Olympics. The spot features 19 year old boxer Carlos Balderas who will be representing the U.S this summer and is the first of his family born in the U.S. Balderas talks about how people carry negative connotations with the word “immigrant” thinking of gangs while he perceives it positively and tries to reverse the negative label using it as motivation.
This year, both the migrants and refugees of the Olympics are spread light on international issues. Their spot on the global stage displays just one of the ways migrants contribute to society. When athletes sprint to the finish line in Rio this year, the Olympic spirit will stand true in representing something greater than the medal in a world facing an array of global issues.