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Nicaragua's Olympic hero returns to the Summer Games – as a Nicaraguan

Michele Richardson swam for the US in the '84 Olympics after the Sandinistas wouldn't let her represent her native country. Nearly 30 years later she'll lead Nicaraguan athletes at the opening ceremony.

By Tim RogersCorrespondent / July 25, 2012

Michele Richardson and Nicaraguan Olympian Gabriel Cuadra will be representing the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes at the 2012 Summer Games in London.

Carl Ahlers, Courtesy of The Nicaragua Dispatch

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Managua, Nicaragua

Twenty-eight years after winning a silver medal for the United States in the 1984 Olympics, former swimmer Michele Richardson de Ahlers is returning to the summer Games under a different flag: the blue-and-white standard of Nicaragua.

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Ms. Richardson will lead Nicaragua’s seven-athlete delegation in the July 27 opening ceremony of the 2012 London Games. It will be Richardson’s first trip to the Olympics since her medal-winning performance in Los Angeles, and the first time she’s allowed to represent her native country on the international sporting stage. She was previously denied this opportunity by the Sandinista government.

“To go to the Olympics representing the country where I was born and the country where my children were born is a dream come true,” says Richardson who left for London early yesterday morning.

“I can’t even believe that I am getting this opportunity to represent Nicaragua at the opening ceremony and to carry the flag. I’m absolutely in shock about it, and I’m very happy and honored at the same time.”

Born in Nicaragua to American parents, Richardson lived here in Managua for 10 years before her family moved to Miami after the triumph of the Sandinista revolution. Despite living in the US, she wanted the opportunity to represent her native land in the 1982 Pan American Games. Her father, a member of Nicaragua’s Olympic Committee in the 1970s, wrote a letter to the Sandinista government to ask if she could represent Nicaragua in the international games. But government officials rejected the petition for the 12-year-old swimming prodigy, saying she represented the “bourgeoisie,” which was meant as an insult from the Marxist revolutionary government.

A year later, Richardson’s father tried again to see if his daughter, who at the age of 14 had the fastest time in the world in the 1,500-meter women’s freestyle, could represent Nicaragua in the 1984 Olympics. Again his request was dismissed by the country’s Sandinista leaders.

Instead, Richardson tried out for the US Olympic team, made the cut by three-hundredths of a second, and went on to win the silver medal in the 800-meter freestyle. At the age of 15, she was the youngest member of the US swim team and was the first Nicaraguan to ever win a medal in the Olympics.

The Sandinista government, meanwhile, sent only one athlete – a runner – to represent Nicaragua in the 1984 Summer Games. His performance was less memorable.

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