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Bringing the U.S. Gold

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The United States has always thrived through the vast contributions of immigrants who come to our shores. Their drive and dream of a better life in America has spawned countless enterprises and innovations in the economy, creating a better life for all citizens across the country. But what many Americans often overlook is a different gold foreign-born citizens bring home every few years – Olympic gold.

As a recent article from points out, more than 40 of the roughly 600-member U.S. Olympic team were born in other countries ( True to the Olympic spirit, the international breadth of these American Olympians is impressive. More than a dozen are from Asia or the Pacific Islands. And they not only come from countries as far and wide as Brazil, Russia, and Kenya, but some even boast even more diverse backgrounds. For instance, volleyball star Foluke Akinradewo was born in Canada to Nigerian parents and is a citizen of three countries.

While many U.S. Olympians were born in the U.S., their parents’ immigrant roots are not far behind. Gold-winning gymnastics star Kyla Ross was born in Honolulu, but her father is Japanese and her mother is of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent. Gold medalist swimming champ Nathan Adrian’s mother was born in Hong Kong.

Track and field runner Abdi Abdirahman, now competing in his fourth Olympics, was born in Somalia. After fleeing civil war in his native Somalia, he came to the United States in 1990 and became a citizen in 2000. And sometimes it is becoming a citizen that proves a more difficult challenge than qualifying for the Olympics themselves. Russian-born Mariya Koroleva, who qualified for the synchronized swimming team, has said that the most challenging part of becoming an Olympian for the U.S. was obtaining her citizenship.

While immigrant athletes are at the forefront of the U.S. Olympic team, it is impossible to neglect the behind-the-scenes role of immigrant coaches who have been instrumental in guiding Olympic athletes to success. No example of this is more conspicuous or resounding than the U.S. winning the women’s team gymnastics gold medal in dominating fashion in London. Gymnast Gabrielle Douglas is being coached by the husband-and-wife team, Liang Chow and Liwen Zhuang, both originally from China. Romanian-born Marta Karolyi is a gymnastics coach and also National Team Coordinator for USA Gymnastics. The women’s team gold marks the first time the U.S. has finished on top in this event since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics team, which was coached by Marta’s husband, Bela Karolyi, also from Romania.

It is only fitting that vast immigrant contributions to the U.S. economy mirror those in the Olympics. As cornerstones in commercial enterprises and competitive events, immigrants embody a balance of mind and body. It is a balance that keeps America robust and triumphant in an increasingly demanding world, and one for which we should be unconditionally proud.

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