Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Wed, 23 Feb 2000 09:03:12 -0500

Citizens by Choice

Khalid Khannouchi will become an American someday. Citizenship probably won't come to the world-record marathoner in time for an Olympic bid, but this isn't the only or even main reason why he wants to become one of us.

He came here from Morocco for the same reason that most of our own ancestors, distant or recent, migrated to the United States. The grass looked greener, and the gold more golden, than where they had lived before.

It's cynical to think that Khannouchi and other athletes came here just for the running. Mark Plaatjes could have run for South Africa if he had waited out apartheid. Arturo Barrios set the world 10,000 record while still representing Mexico.

Despite Khannouchi's differences with Moroccan authorities, they'd probably welcome him onto their Olympic team after his record-setting race. He says he'll go to Sydney with the U.S. team or not at all.

I know Khalid Khannouchi only by what I've read about him. His words and actions portray him as someone to make welcome here, and soon.

At the Millennathon race in January I talked with two new and welcome Americans. Eddy Hellebuyck and Nadia Prasad were Olympic marathoners in 1996, he for Belgium and she for France. They might have run again this year for their native countries but chose to change citizenship.

While picking up his Millennathon award, Hellebuyck wore a sweater bearing the U.S. flag. Announcer Mike Fanelli said, "Most of us here are Americans by birth. He's an American by choice."

Hellebuyck seized his first chance to run for his adopted country. He took one of less-popular international trips, to the steamy World Championships Marathon in Spain last summer.

Nadia Prasad would like such an opportunity. "I was born in France," Prasad told me at a pre-race lunch. "Then my parents moved to the French island of New Caledonia when I was three."

There Nadia eventually met and married a man from Fiji. They moved to Colorado 10 years ago, and had two daughters before the Atlanta Olympics and a third since then.

"All three of my daughters are U.S. citizens because they were born in this country," she said. "The older ones asked, 'Mommy, why aren't you an American like us?' "

Last fall Nadia earned her citizenship at age 32. The timing wasn't yet right for her to make a U.S. team, but she would try anyway.

"My youngest girl is now 2-1/2," Nadia said, "and I am just beginning to get fit again after her birth. But I want very much to run in the Olympic Trials Marathon."

She's unlikely to return to the Games, this time as an American. But she already has claimed a much bigger prize.

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