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Much of her joy stems from the fact that she's competing. Despite the case of the Kenyan runners lured to Qatar and Bahrain with lifetime stipends--even though most were ineligible to compete in Athens--more athletes jump flags these days because they want to take part in the Games. The 44-year-old Ottey, for one, became a Slovenian citizen in 2002 because Jamaican teammates and officials were pressing her to retire.
For Aldama the stakes were higher: Jumping, with its prize money and, in her case, an Adidas sponsorship, offered a way for her to care for her son. When Great Britain refused to speed up its citizenship process to allow her to compete in these Games, she began nation-shopping. The Czech Republic and Italy reportedly were interested, but the fastest track was offered by Sudan, which is paying Aldama nothing.
As for those in Sudan who say she isn't Sudanese: "That is O.K.," said the country's chef de mission in Athens, Kamal Ali Kheiralla. "All the people are very interested in seeing the flag go up in the Olympic Games. After, we will use her to lift up other ladies in Sudan to practice this event."
At first blush, of course, the whole setup seems contrary to the Olympic ideal, whatever that is. But for Sudan, embroiled in a bloody civil war, finding Olympic athletes is not a priority. The country will take anyone. "If a man is useful to us in any sort of activity--medicine, sports, engineering--he can help us a lot," Kheiralla said.
Besides, the Olympics are what the world decides they are. As Wamsley points out, the founder of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, saw them as preparation for military service before he embraced them as a vehicle for peace. "The Olympic ideal is an empty vessel filled up by the ideas of the day," Wamsley says. "It's all up for grabs."
Now more than ever. In an era of globalization, maybe it's only right that athletes are ignoring national distinctions. "Sport is becoming countryless," said Attoh, a Ghana-born Brit. "How do you stop someone from marrying and becoming a Brit or a Canadian or an American?"
You don't. You can't. Aldama is the case in point, and she's not finished yet. She's a triple jumper, after all, and she may well be competing under her third flag at the 2008 Games in Beijing. Come November, Aldama becomes eligible for British citizenship. She plans to apply.