Being American in the 2022 Olympics

Lauren Cortese, American Scholar

Every two years we get to enjoy the international spectacle of the Olympics. For this year’s Winter Olympics we’re only one year removed from the 2021 Summer Olympics, rescheduled to account for restrictions due to COVID-19, but the conversations about the events are similar to those of a few months ago: worries for athlete health and safety, concerns about performance enhancing drugs, and national rivalries. It feels like there is more news about the controversies of the events than the competition themselves. This season there has been another, more nuanced conversation about American athletes-how to respond to athletes that choose to compete for another country? 

Two Chinese Americans, Eileen Gu and Zhu Yi, have chosen to compete for the Chinese team in this year’s Olympics. Both originally from California and of Chinese heritage, Gu is a freestyle skier and Yi an ice skater. Their decisions have received mixed responses from Americans. Some consider them to be traitors, others see them as inspiring athletes for East Asian women around the world, including the United States. 

The decision to compete for another country is hardly a new phenomenon in the Olympics. This year there are a handful of athletes performing on behalf of nations where their parents are from or where they compete in professional leagues. This option has always been open to athletes of dual nationalities. In some cases, this may be a strategic decision to make the Olympic team for a country that has less competition than within the United States. For others, it’s a chance to celebrate their heritage that is shared with the US and another nation. 

Regardless of why the athlete makes this choice, what is clear in 2022 is that Gu and Yi are receiving an exceptional amount of attention for a decision that is far from unprecedented. There are a few reasons for this. Opposers cite the politics between China and the US as a reason not to compete for the Chinese. Fans look to the immense increase of anti-Asian sentiment in the US that has proliferated in acts of violence during the past two years of the pandemic as a reason for these athletes to wish to celebrate their Asian heritage. 

What’s not making as many headlines? This year also marks the first Native American on the US Women’s Ice Hockey team, Abby Roque. Historically, Native Americans have been better represented in the Summer Olympics, but overall make up a small portion of US Olympic athletes. As a nation of immigrants, Gu and Yi represent a broad swath of Americans who celebrate their shared heritage with other countries. Meanwhile, Roque is a Native American representing the US’s rich indigenous history but has received less media coverage. A member of the Wahnapitae First Nation tribe in northern Michigan, Roque is another woman athlete who inspires her community. 

The US is proud of its melting pot culture that has a long history of immigration from all over the world. The Olympics are a time to recognize the international community through sports, so it only seems appropriate that the United States’ athletes can represent that heritage in the way they see fit. With the world fractured from two years of the pandemic and limited opportunities to experience other cultures through travel, it seems a shame to prevent the celebration of nations coming together by disavowing athletes with a shared nationality. 

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