Here's why some Olympians can compete for countries they are not from

David Ramos/Getty ImagesElizabeth Swaney competed for Hungary in this year’s Winter Olympics because she has Hungarian grandparents.
  • A Jamaican bobsledder at this year’s Olympics had raced at a previous Winter Olympics for the United States.
  • Olympics rules allow athletes with multiple nationalities to choose who to compete for, and even change their competitive allegiance.
  • Citizenship laws vary from country to country, a s do the reasons an athlete may have for switching countries.

When Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian raced in this Olympics’ women’s bobsledding event, she was doing so in her second Winter Olympics – but her first competing for Jamaica.

Fenlator-Victorian was a part of the U.S. women’s bobsled team at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, but in 2015 she switched to the Jamaican team in the hopes of inspiring more girls and children of colour to take up the sport.

And she’s not the first Olympian to change teams. A South Korean speed skater named Ahn Hyun-soo not only switched to competing for Russia, but he even legally changed his name.

According to a report from Rob Hodgetts of CNN, 178 Winter Olympics athletes (about 6% of all athletes in Pyeongchang) are competing for countries other than the one of their birth.

A bye-law to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter states that athletes with dual-citizenship can represent the country of their choosing, and athletes who gain a new citizenship or wish to change their Olympics affiliation can do so as long as at least three years have passed since they last competed for their previous country in Olympics games or a similarly-sanctioned competition.

Hodgetts reports that the U.S., Russia, and Canada are the countries with the most athletes competing for other countries, while South Korea, Canada, and Germany have the most non-native athletes competing for them.

Obviously, citizenship laws differ from country to country. Fenlator-Victorian was able to compete for Jamaica because her father is Jamaican.

On the other hand, Gary and Angelica di Silvestri, a married couple, essentially bought citizenship with tiny Caribbean country of Dominica and ended up competing in the Sochi Olympics as part of the Dominca ski team, per Deadspin.

For many athletes, changing their national allegiances is the only way to keep their Olympics dreams alive, especially if their home countries are stacked with talent in their particular sport. Such is the case with Carlijn Schoutens, a speed skater for team USA who grew up in the Netherlands, a speed skating powerhouse, per Yahoo Sports.

But others might have more personal reasons. Hodgetts quotes Akuoma Omeoga, an American-birth athlete for the Nigerian women’s bobsled team, as saying, “Being Nigerian was always something that was definitely prominent in my childhood, as it is as much as in adulthood. That was the first culture that I’ve ever known.”

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