Now More Than Ever, Olympic Teams Go Multinational

FasterSkierAugust 23, 2008

Editor's Note: In the ski world there have been several notable cases of athletes switching nations for a better opportunities. Most recently, Ivan Babikov secured Canadian citizenship, coming from Russia. Johan Muhlegg, who was banned for doping violations in 2002 after dominating the sport for several seasons, immigrated to Spain, leaving his native Germany for increased support.

Additionally, many foreign athletes come to the US to continue their education and compete for elite University sports programs. In some sports, these athletes return home to compete at an even higher level. IN cross-country skiing, foreign skiers usually wind down their competitive careers in the United States – though there are certainly exceptions. Giving scholarships to foreign athletes is controversial – on the one hand it takes financial support from US skiers, while on the other it raises the level of skiing in the US, providing better competition and an opportunity for collaboration.

The Olympic torch has traditionally ignited nationalistic rivalry and pride, with citizens across the globe glued to their TV screens rooting for “their” athletes. But just as globalization has made everything from T-shirts to Toyotas a hybrid of efforts from around the world, so, too, are Olympic teams becoming a multinational product.

Increasingly, athletes are switching national alliances — sometimes for money, but also for better training opportunities or a chance to compete in a sport that’s too saturated with talent back home.

“It’s definitely a growing trend,” says Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. “The coaches want to coach the best athletes; the athletes want the best coaches.”

The phenomenon began in the mid-1980s as the Soviet Union was crumbling, leaving highly trained professional athletes and coaches free to take advantage of more lucrative career options elsewhere. It was accelerated by foreign athletes who, drawn by generous scholarship packages, began flocking to US universities — making the NCAA a de facto Olympic development pipeline for other countries. Most recently, oil-rich Gulf states have started luring top athletes with hefty salaries.

Read the full article from the Christian Science Monitor:
Now more than ever, Olympic teams go multinational

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