Immigrants Help Team USA Shine in Winter Olympics 2018

Every four years, the world watches as the best athletes from around the globe gather to compete at the winter Olympic games. Originating in ancient Greece, the Olympics are a unique sporting event unparalleled in the diverse array of stories and experiences represented by the athletes who battle for the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals in their respective events. This year, almost 3,000 competitors from 92 countries have gathered in Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 16-day span of the 2018 Olympics. Among the countries represented at the games is the United States, with 244 athletes making up our Olympic team. Unsurprisingly, many of these fierce contenders are immigrants or children of immigrants. [See If It Were Up To Trump, These U.S. Olympians Wouldn’t Have Made History, by Esther Yu Hsi Lee, Think Progress, 12.Feb.2018.]

Last week, snowboarder Chloe Kim earned a near perfect score and a gold medal in the women’s half pipe competition in Pyeongchang. Kim was born in California and is the daughter of South Korean immigrants who arrived in America with only a few hundred dollars in their pockets. In a recent interview with People magazine, her father referred to Chloe as “his American Dream.”

Mirai Nagasu, who helped Team USA earn a bronze in the team figure skating event, made history as the first American woman to successfully complete a triple axel jump during an Olympic competition. Both of Mirai’s parents are citizens of Japan, and when she had to choose between her Japanese and U.S. citizenship upon reaching the age of 21, as required by Japanese law, Mirai opted to remain an American. Of her bronze medal win, she told the Washington Post that it’s “historical and something no one can take away from me. I wanted to make America proud.” [See Chloe Kim’s KoreanAmerican Dad Calls Her His ‘American Dream’ As Teen Chases Olympic Gold, by Char Adams, People, 12.Feb.2018.]

Mirai was hardly the only child from an immigrant family to help the U.S. bring home the bronze in the team figure skating event. In fact, four of the eight competitors for Team USA are first- or second-generation Americans. Maia and Alex Shibutani, a brother-sister duo who have been dubbed the “Shib sibs,” earned the second-highest score of the night in the team free dance portion of the event, and take home another bronze medal for the ice dancing competition. Their mother was born in Japan, and their father is also of Japanese descent.

And, of course, there is Nathan Chen, the son of two Chinese immigrants. Nathan made a few errors early in the individual skating events, keeping him off of the podium beyond the team event. But, his final performance was jaw-dropping; he successfully landed a record-breaking five quadruple jumps, earning him the highest free skate score in Olympic history.

Of course, not all of Team USA’s immigrant competitors earned a medal; but, they still helped to represent American ideals and the Olympic spirit. Maame Biney is an immigrant from Ghana who is the first black woman to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic speed skating team. After arriving in the U.S. at the age of five, she lived and trained with her father in Maryland before moving to Virginia. Later she relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah to further her training. In an interview with Team USA, she noted that her normally cheerful, happy-go-lucky demeanor is eclipsed by a fiery competitive spirit as soon as she takes her place at the starting line. “I always try to have a happy face and give everyone joy. My game face on the ice is totally different … it’s like a ‘don’t be in my way’ mentality.” [See From Ghana to Korea:History-Making Speedskater Maame Biney Soaking In Her First Olympic Experience, by Emily Giambalvo, Team USA, 10.Feb.2018.]

The achievement of immigrants and first generation Americans in these Olympic games, as in others past, is especially germane to the fiercely divided political age we currently occupy. Watching immigrants and children of immigrants inspire billions of future athletes around the world is a visceral reminder that the American Dream remains a reality, regardless of who sits in the White House.


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