12 Naturalized Members of Team USA

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I know the Olympics are tainted by doping, and I know the corruption that goes on in the bids and in construction of sites has grown worse over the years. I know the nasty nationalism they can provoke, and I know that politics can’t be separated from them. But I still love them. At the closing of each Olympic games, and summer, the president of the International Olympic Committee charges, “I call upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in to celebrate the Games ….” The youth of the world assembled to celebrate – how can you be against that?

Team USA is always a massive one, this time around we are sending more than 550 athletes. Here are a dozen who weren’t born Americans:

Denis Kudla – Tennis

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: ATP World Tour

Born in Kyiv, Ukraine, his parents Vladimir and Lucy moved the family to Fairfax, Virginia, on their son’s first birthday. He began playing tennis at the age of 7. Most recently, he made it to the second round of the Australian Open. He will turn 24 during the Games.

Dagmara Wozniak – Fencing, Saber

Olympics+Previews+Day+1+353W8PqEaGHxImage Source: Zimbio

Born in Wroclaw, Poland, her parents brought her to the US when she was one, settling in New Jersey. She earned three team medals at the Junior World Championships and is now ranked as one of the top 10 saber fencers in the world. She placed eighth in the 2012 London Games, and in 2014, took gold at The Senior World Championships.

Michal Smolen – Canoe

12 Naturalized members of Team USAImage Source: Nbc Olympics

Another Pole by birth, Michal left Krakow for the United States to take up his university education, Queens University in North Carolina. As a child, he was afraid of water, but he has certainly overcome that. He had a very promising run at making the US team in 2012, but his citizenship didn’t come through in time. As I write this, he just came up short in the canoe slalom semifinals.

Enkelejda Shehaj – Shooting

26213143424_e761242881_oImage Source: NBC

She grew up in Tirana, Albania, back when Albania was a Stalinist state. She began competing in 1988, when buying a gun was illegal, but shooting clubs were popular. You left the gun at the club and only practices there. Dictator Enver Hoxha was taking no chances. She competed for Albania in the 1990s, but she left after the economy collapsed there. “Shehaj became a U.S. citizen in 2012 and returned to top-level international competition for the first time since 2000 in 2014. This time, as a member of the U.S. national team.”

Charles Jock – Running, 800 meters

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: San Diego Union

Born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, his parents had fled what is now Southern Sudan. After a few years there, they left for another camp in Kenya. Charles was 3. When he was 5, they left Kenya for the City Heights section of San Diego. He qualified for the US team, as a citizen, by placing third at the trials. No American has won a medal in the 800 since 1992 in Barcelona, but Jock is in good shape and 24 years is long enough.

Nick Delpopolo – Judo

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: Usa Today

He was born in Montenegro with the name Petra Perovic. For his first 21 months, he lived in an orphanage. The early 1990s saw the worst fighting in Europe since WWII in the Balkans, and he was one of many. Joyce and Dominic Delpopolo from New Jersey adopted him.

“By age 17, Delpopolo made the Junior World team after beating the top-ranked junior in the United States. In 2008, at age 19, he qualified for the Olympic Trials but lost a controversial match to the top seed. In 2012, he was sent home early after testing positive for marijuana. This time, he lost in the quarterfinals. However in the match before that, he defeated Mongolia’s Odbayar Ganbaatar, who was ranked ninth in the world. Ganbaatar is 35, Delpopolo is 27. He may be back in Tokyo in 2020.

Jay Shi – Shooting

In this July 26, 2016, image provided by USA Shooting, Jay Shi poses at a shooting range in Colorado Springs, Colo., with Eminem on his phone. The Associated Press asked several Olympians what is the most important thing that you’re packing in your bag for Brazil, that item that you double- and triple-check to make sure you have with you? “If there’s one thing I must have, it would be the music on my phone. About an hour before a match, we start to zoom in and filter everything out. I listen to music before the match to get myself into that moment. For me, I like Eminem, " said Shi. (Jessica Delos Reyes/USA Shooting via AP)Image Source: News Ok

Born in Beijing, Jay had an accident with scissors at the age of 9, and he parents took him to the US for treatment. A friend of his grandfather’s worked at Johns Hopkins. They restored the sight, but “The accident left Shi unable to see fine details, three dimensionally or judge distances well, impairments that would seemingly black out his future as an elite shooter.” So, he lines up his left eye (the good one) with the gun he holds in his right. Someone likened it to driving a car from the passenger’s seat. He won silver at the Pan Am Games last year.

Danell Leyva – Men’s Gymnastics 

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: E online

While the Final Five on the women’s side gets all the attention, the US men’s gymnastics team includes Leyva, who was born in Cuba. When he was still a baby, his family defected. He took bronze in London in the all-round, and won the world championship in 2011 for the parallel bars.

Hillary Bor – 3000-meter steeplechase

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: American Distance

A native of Eldoret, Kenya, Bor is a graduate of Iowa State, in Ames, Iowa. While there, he was a four-time All-American and two-time Big 12 Conference champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He also won the Big 12 indoor mile title in 2009. He is currently serving in the US Army as a financial management technician, holding the rank of sergeant.

Paul Chelimo – 5,000 meters Runner

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: Army

Hailing from Iten, Kenya, Chelimo came to the US for a college education. He started at the University of Rome, in Georgia, but transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A four-time NAIA National Champion, Chelimo, finished his collegiate track and field career as a World University Games Silver medalist, two-time NCAA 5,000 meter runner-up and five-time NCAA All-American. He is a water treatment specialist with the US Army.

Shadrack Kipchirchir – 10,000 meters Runner

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: Runners World

Also from Eldoret, Kenya, and also a financial management technician with the US Army, Kipchirchir came to the US as a runner and student. He began at Western Kentucky University and transferred to Oklahoma State University in 2011. A four-time NCAA All-America runner, Kipchirchir, 26, finished second in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Leonard Korir – 10,000 Meters Runner

12 Naturalized Members of Team USAImage Source: Nbc

From Iten, Kenya, Korir is a graduate of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. He was a two-time NCAA champion in the 10,000 and 5,000 meters on the track. Korir, 29, won the 2015 New York City Half Marathon in 1 hour, 1 minute and 6 seconds. He is known in the US Army as Specialist Korir, working as a motor transport operator.

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