Immigrant Olympians

Many noticed the refugee team competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics but few noticed the immigrants on the American team.  As far as I can tell, 47 out of the 554 American athletes were born in another country although some of them are probably the children of American citizens born abroad.  Thus, 8.5 percent of American Olympians were born in another country.  However, immigrants are underrepresented among Olympians because 13.3 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.  Despite being underrepresented as a whole, immigrants are more likely to be in some sports rather than others.

Immigrants are overrepresented in sports to the left of the red line while they are less likely to be Olympians in sports to the right, compared to their percent of the U.S. population (Figure 1).  There are no immigrants representing the United States in archery to weightlifting on the right-hand side of Figure 1.  It’s also important to note that many of the sports where immigrants are overrepresented have the fewest number of athletes.  For instance, there are only two American synchronized swimmers and six American table tennis players.  

Figure 1

Foreign Born as a Percentage of Each U.S. Team

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

These foreign-born athletes also come from countries on every continent (Figure 2).  Kenya, China, and the United Kingdom are the top three countries of origin. Charles Jock, who will run the 800-meter race for the United States, actually lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for a time as a child before settling in the United States with his family.

Figure 2

Foreign Born Athletes by Country of Origin

Country of Origin

Number of Athletes

Kenya

5

China

4

United Kingdom

4

Australia

3

Bulgaria

2

Cuba

2

Japan

2

Poland

2

Russia

2

Albania

1

Brazil

1

Canada

1

Denmark

1

Eritrea

1

Ethiopia

1

France

1

Germany

1

Hong Kong

1

Italy

1

Mexico

1

Montenegro

1

Netherlands

1

Nigeria

1

Philippines

1

Somalia

1

South Africa

1

Switzerland

1

Trinidad and Tobago

1

Turkey

1

Ukraine

1

Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

Foreign-born Americans competing in the Olympics come from all over the world but are concentrated in a handful of sports.  Unfortunately, there is not enough public information about the athletes who are the children of immigrants - like Steven Lopez who is competing in Tae Kwon Do.  Regardless, many immigrants are competing for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio.