Russia's short track speed skater Viktor Ahn was born in South Korea as Ahn Hyun-Soo. As part of South Korean's Olympic team, he won four medals in Turin before having to sit Vancouver out due to injuries that prevented him from qualifying. With little hope that he'd be let back on the South Korean team, he began shopping around for a new country to compete for, finally settling on Russia. He's won a gold and a bronze for his adopted home so far.
But while Ahn's case is atypical ("something approximating international free agency," as the Washington Post put it), it's not unusual for athletes to switch teams. As Pew Research Center pointed out today, at 120 of the 3,000 athletes in the Sochi games are competing for a country they were not born in.
The country with the most adopted athletes is Canada, with nine. ("In Canada, we move elite athletes to the front of the immigration line, speeding up their immigration papers in time for the Olympics," Janice Forsythe, director of Canada's International Centre for Olympic Studies told the Miami Herald.)
Russia and the United States have seven each and France has six.
A few more interesting facts:
- All of Israel and Azerbaijan's athletes in these games were born in other countries. For Israel, it's three from the Ukraine, one from Belgium and one from the United States. For Azerbaijan, it's two Russians, an Austrian and an Italian (who also competed for Grenada until the 2002 Olympics, when she went all the way to Salt Lake City and then found out that Grenada wasn't entering a team and would not support her bid).
- One in 10 alpine skiers was born in another country
- One in five figure skaters was born in another country.
- Of the five Olympians competing for three African countries, only one was actually born in the country he is representing (of course, he moved from Zimbabwe to Switzerland when he was two).
- Dominica's Gary and Angelica di Silvestri, who were born in America and Italy, respectively, were given Dominican citizenship based on their philanthropy there (which they've refused to give details about) and "asked" to be the country's first Winter Olympians. But Angelica was unable to start her cross country race after crashing in practice and breaking her nose, while Gary, suffering from stomach issues, skied just 300 meters before collapsing. Sometimes it's not enough to show up.
- Johnny Weir throws beach umbrella levels of shade on carpetbagging figure skaters like American-born Isadora Williams, who skates for Brazil.