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Rio Olympics 2016: Team flying flag for our open borders

World champion cyclist Linda Villumsen is among New Zealand's foreign-born contingent shaping as medal contenders in Rio. Photo / Photosport
World champion cyclist Linda Villumsen is among New Zealand's foreign-born contingent shaping as medal contenders in Rio. Photo / Photosport

From Bulawayo to Limerick to Vladivostok, almost one in 10 New Zealand athletes attending the Rio Olympic Games were born overseas.

Their presence looks set to be a considerable source of medals.

A compilation of birthplaces reveals 19 of the country's 199 Rio-bound competitors began life elsewhere. Four apiece were born in England and South Africa, two in the United States, Australia and South Korea, and one each in Ireland, Denmark, Russia, Japan and Zimbabwe.

Most came with families seeking a better life in New Zealand, sometimes from what might be considered oppressive regimes.

Some births were the results of conception while Kiwi parents were on OEs.

Regardless, there's a sense of the cosmopolitan about those donning the silver fern.

Immigration sometimes gets a negative press, but prospective Games podium finishes provide a chance to generate community wellbeing.

In a breakdown by sports, there are three footballers, two cyclists, golfers, gymnasts, rowers and sailors, and one athlete, hockey player, rugby player, swimmer, triathlete and weightlifter.

Of the medal contenders, cyclist Linda Villumsen was born in Herning, Denmark, and became a New Zealand citizen in 2009. As defending world champion, the 31-year-old shapes as the time trial rider to beat.

Rower Mahe Drysdale was born in Melbourne. The defending Olympic champion's birth certificate reads Alexander Mahe Owens Drysdale. The 37-year-old's parents visited the Seychelles and enjoyed their time on the main island ... Mahe.

Similarly, the likes of sevens player Akira Ioane (dad Eddie was playing rugby in Japan), BMX rider Trent Jones (his parents were building golf courses in Ireland) and sailors Alex Maloney and Sam Meech (their parents were sailing the world) each returned home.

The main criteria for Olympic selection are that athletes declare they are New Zealand citizens and submit a passport for accreditation processing.

Whatever the rules, the likes of Villumsen, Seoul-born golfer Lydia Ko, Durban-born rower Chris Harris and Cape Town-born hockey player Kirsten Pearce can make a case for the sporting benefits of opening the borders.

New Zealanders love winners.

Personal bests from the likes of Vladivostok-born gymnast Misha Koudinov, Johannesburg-born weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs and Bulawayo-born triathlete Ryan Sissons could also help wave the multicultural flag.

However, the rate of overseas births has reduced from the London Olympics, where more than one in seven (27 out of 185) New Zealand athletes were born elsewhere. That included eight in Britain, five in South Africa and three in Australia. Others were born in India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Korea.

The New Zealand foreign legion

Sportsperson Sport (and event) Birthplace

Nikki Hamblin Athletics (1500m, 5000m) England

Trent Jones Cycling (BMX) Ireland

Linda Villumsen Cycling (road race, time trial) Denmark

Anna Green Football England

Ria Percival Football England

Ali Riley Football United States

Misha Koudinov Gymnastics (artistic all-round) Russia

Dylan Schmidt Gymnastics (trampoline) England

Lydia Ko Golf South Korea

Danny Lee Golf South Korea

Kirsten Pearce Hockey South Africa

Mahe Drysdale Rowing (single sculls) Australia

Chris Harris Rowing (double sculls) South Africa

Akira Ioane Sevens Japan

Alex Maloney Sailing (49er FX) United States

Sam Meech Sailing (Laser) England

Glenn Snyders Swimming (100m, 200m breaststroke) South Africa

Ryan Sissons Triathlon Zimbabwe

- Herald on Sunday

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