How 4 dual-citizen athletes look to make their mark in Rio

Martial arts champion Jackie Galloway of Texas hopes to earn a medal in her first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she will represent the United States. She came close to competing in the 2012 games, but for Mexico’s team.

Galloway and hundreds of other Olympians in Rio are dual citizens. They have passports in two countries and the legal rights and obligations of both countries.

The Olympic Charter stipulates that athletes must be nationals of the country for which they compete. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another.

Here’s how four dual citizens hope to make history at the 2016 Olympics:

Jackie Galloway

Galloway has already distinguished herself in her sport of taekwondo. In 2010, at age 14, she accepted a spot on Mexico’s team after she defeated the Mexican world champion. She was proud to become the youngest athlete in Mexico national team history.

After two years of living and training in Mexico City and standing by as an alternate for the London games, Galloway returned to Texas and joined Team USA. Today, she is thrilled to be competing in Rio.

Hopes are high. She won a gold medal during the 2015 Pan Am Games, a major sporting event in the Americas.

“The difference between team member and alternate, the difference between gold and silver, will be determined in a manner of a few seconds. So I need to be engaged and focused every moment of every match,” Galloway says.

Galloway, on Twitter @ikick_urface, will compete in the women’s heavyweight taekwondo tournament in Rio on August 20.

Naomy Grand’Pierre

When she dives into the pool, Naomy Grand’Pierre will do so as Haiti’s first female Olympic swimmer. The 19-year-old student at the University of Chicago grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, the oldest of five children. After a cousin drowned, her mother, a Haitian immigrant, made sure Grand’Pierre and all her siblings learned to swim.

Grand’Pierre quickly outgrew her first swimming classes and joined a city swim team in Atlanta. Her times, which kept getting faster, attracted the attention of a coach in Haiti.

And Haiti in 2010 attracted the attention of Grand’Pierre’s family. “When the earthquake happened in 2010, it forced a lot of Haitians to turn back home and look where we came from,” said Clio Grand’Pierre, Naomy’s mother, who, after visiting a swim club in Haiti, took to the idea of her daughter competing in the Olympics for the Caribbean country.

Naomy kept training, and with her performance in a meet in the Bahamas, she qualified for the Olympics in the 50-meter freestyle. She will be joining Haiti’s contingent of 11 athletes in the Parade of Nations on August 5.

While she hopes to make history with her swim, Grand’Pierre’s goals reach beyond the Olympics. She wants to share her sport more universally. Right now, “there are no role models for Haitians to look up to when it comes to swimming,” she said.

“Swimming is something all people can have access to. It’s for anybody of any race and gender.”

Grand’Pierre will swim in the the 50-meter freestyle on August 12. Follow your favorite swimmers in Rio from August 6 to 13. 

Mohamed Hrezi

Though he lives in the U.S., training and studying in Michigan, Mohamed “Mo” Hrezi qualified for the Olympic marathon and will compete for Libya as that country’s only representative in track and field events.

Hrezi, 24, says he is honored to represent his family’s Libyan heritage. “There are days that I get letters in the mail from people I don’t know, which have pictures from newspapers and clippings about my running,” he said. “Given the country’s turmoil, any light and positivity is good for the people, and I think they feel even prouder knowing that an American-born Libyan wants to represent them.”

From early June to July, he modified his training schedule to observe Ramadan, a time of reflection and fasting from dawn to dusk. Throughout his fast, he was putting in 100 miles of training runs per week. It meant his hardest workout of the day started at 1:30 a.m., with his bleary-eyed coach, Kevin Hanson, following along on a bicycle.

After a post-run snack (usually hard-boiled eggs and protein smoothies), he got to bed by 4 a.m. Having grueling preparations for Rio during Ramadan has been a spiritual experience, Hrezi said.

“I feel truly blessed,” he said. “And I hope to come away with an effort that makes my family, friends and country proud.”

You can follow Mohamed Hrezi on Twitter @Mo_Hrezi. The Olympic marathon will take place on Sunday, August 21.

Norik Vardanian

Weightlifter Norik Vardanian is about to achieve his goal of competing on the Olympic team for a second country.

Vardanian represented Armenia, the country of his birth, at the 2012 London Olympic Games, placing 11th. Then, his dual citizenship allowed him to move back to the United States, where he is now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Vardanian goes to Rio with some impressive experience. He won the silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games and set U.S. records for the “snatch and total” in the 94-kilogram division, in which the athlete lifts the barbell from the ground to overhead in one continuous motion.

He said he was drawn into the sport because of his father, Urik Vardanian, who was an Olympic gold medalist and seven-time world champion. “I figured he would be a good guy to talk to,” the son says.

Norik is documenting his Olympic experience on Instagram; you can follow him and fellow weightlifters in Rio from August 6 to 16.

2016 Summer Olympics graphic | ShareAmerica