Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Expatriate Games

A trend revealed by the last-place results is the number of expatriates competing for their mother countries. Not all of them came in last, but enough of them did that I noticed. Algeria, Argentina and Thailand, all of whom have small teams (two, nine and one, respectively) owe all of their last-place finishes to competitors who live in other countries. On one level, having an athlete live abroad is a common enough occurrence: many athletes must train far from home due to a lack of facilities, or are studying abroad; several compete for other countries for various reasons, and some of them end up on the podium.

But some cases are different. Argentina's last-placers, for example, are American citizens: Michelle Despain, last in the women's luge, has dual citizenship; Clyde Getty, in aerials, has a parental connection to the country. It's a fairly safe bet that in these and other cases, it would be harder to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team (or the French team, or the Canadian team) than it was to meet the basic Olympic standard -- particularly in events where there are spots reserved for each continent, like the sledding events, or a basic quota to allow competitors from noncompetitive countries, such as alpine and cross-country skiing.

I'm not going to fault the athletes for wanting to attend or for seizing the opportunity; indeed, I think it's a courageous thing to do. But it does seem that a loophole is being exploited. Sending expatriates isn't much of a substitute for a decent domestic sport program; their success (or, in my line of work, their lack of it) doesn't reflect much one way or the other on the home country, I think.

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