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Winner of most 2012 Olympic defections: Cameroon

Economic misery (or opportunity) drives many Olympic athletes to defect in modern times, but political defections still plague communist bloc teams such as Cuba.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / August 15, 2012

Paddy Barnes of Ireland (r.) makes contact with Thomas Essomba of Cameroon, during their fight at the men's light flyweight boxing competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. This year, 15 African athletes and coaches have defected, with Cameroon in the lead - seven of its 37 athletes have been confirmed missing, including Essomba.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

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After the medal count comes the head count.

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This year’s Olympics in London brought news of Olympic athletes who defected, disappeared, or went on the run, some of them before they even had a chance to compete, more than 20 at last count. Olympic defections are a relatively common affair, but the end of the cold war in 1989 meant that most modern sports defections – with the possible exception of Cuba, the grand champion of defection – are largely economically motivated.

This year, 15 African athletes and coaches have defected, with Cameroon in the lead – seven of its 37 athletes have been confirmed missing. The first to leave was Drusille Ngako, a goalkeeper on the women’s soccer team, followed soon after by swimmer Paul Ekane Edingue, and boxers Thomas Essomba, Christian Donfack Adjoufack, Mewoli Abdon, Blaise Yepmou Mendouo, and Serge Ambomo.

Athletes weren’t the only ones to disappear. Four Congolese team members, including a coach and a technical athletic director, also failed to return to their home countries after the Olympic Games ended last week.

Ethiopia also deserves honorable mention for the disappearance of 15-year-old torch bearer Nathaniel Yemane, who was later found “safe and well” in Nottingham. Apparently, Nathaniel simply got lost. 

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