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The Countries Least Likely to Win Olympic Gold but Most Likely to Win Your Heart

Whether impoverished, ravaged by war, or just plain tiny, these competing countries may not win many Olympic medals, but their athletes are some of the most persistent and determined. From Haiti to Brunei, here’s a look at the countries least likely to take the gold but most likely to win your heart.

Whether impoverished, ravaged by war, or just plain tiny, these competing countries may not win many Olympic medals, but their athletes are some of the most persistent and determined. From Haiti to Brunei, here’s a look at the countries least likely to take the gold but most likely to win your heart.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo


Though the country has been competing in the games since 1936, it was only four years ago, in Beijing, that it won its first medal when Rohullah Nikpai took bronze in Taekwondo. Nikpai, who learned the sport in an Iranian refugee camp for Afghanis, told the Associated Press that he hopes "this will send a message of peace to my country after 30 years of war." This year, six athletes will be competing for the country in four different sports.

Olivier Morin, AFP / Getty Images


The man holding Andorra's flag at the Parade of Nations may have looked more like a coach, but in reality Joan Tomas Roca is in London for his fifth Olympic games. The 61-year-old shooter is part of the small European country's six-person team. Andorra has competed in the games since 1976 but has yet to bring back a medal.

Jewel Samad, AFP / Getty Images


Despite their native country being the most densely populated country on earth, the Bangladeshi contingent is only five athletes strong. The 150-million person nation nestled above India is one of the world’s poorest, and though no Bangladeshi athlete has ever qualified for the Olympics (they all get in on wild cards), the country will be represented in five events, from gymnastics to shooting.

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It may sound like the opening scene of a movie, but  Botswana's Olympic hopeful really did get her start by running to school, racing her siblings and chasing ostriches or whatever else she came across for practice in the countryside. Today, Botswana's Amantle Montsho is the world champion of the 400-meter sprint and the highest hope out of four competing athletes to bring back a medal to a country that doesn't yet have one.

Suzanne Plunkett / AP Photo


In 1988, for its first year of participation in the Olympic games, the small sultanate of Brunei sent one official and no athletes. For the next three games, it sent just one athlete. Its track record didn't improve much after the country was disqualified in 2008 for failing to register any athletes by the deadline. This year, Brunei is back on its game with three athletes, including a woman hurdler and 400-meter runner--its first-ever female entrant.

Christophe Simon, AFP / Getty Images

East Timor

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste has the unfortunate honor of being known as the least successful Olympic nation. East Timor, as it's known, has never finished higher than 65th in any event (not including when it came in last place). This is only the third Olympics the conflict-ridden nation has been able to participate in, and its athletes' stories showcase the struggle. Aguida Fatima Amaral, the country's most famous runner, has competed in two games after training barefoot at a refugee camp because her running shoes were destroyed when her house was burned down by Indonesian troops.

Lars Baron / Getty Images

Equatorial Guinea

Most countries laud the athletes who win the races, top the scoreboards, or make best time. Not Equatorial Guinea--a small nation whose most celebrated athlete famously finished the 100-meter swimming race with the slowest time ever recorded at the Olympics. Eric "The Eel" Malonga competed in the 2000 Sydney games without a trainer or a swimming pool at his disposal and set a personal best and national record for his country. This year, Equatorial Guinea is sending two athletes to make their mark on the London games.

Franck Fife, AFP / Getty Images


In its debut at the Olympic Games in 1924, Haiti took home a bronze metal. The next Olympics its athlete won silver. Unfortunately, the island nation hasn't won since. Two years after the devastating earthquake, Haiti is sending five athletes, four of whom were not actually born in the country, including Mark Zuckerberg's old Harvard roommate. Training out of the country might have its advantages—three of the country's five running tracks are currently being used as refugee shantytowns.

Daniel Ochoa De Olza / AP Photo


Of the three athletes competing for Malawi in the 2012 Olympics, the one swimmer hadn't practiced in an indoor pool until arriving in London a few weeks before the games began. The Malawians may not get the spotlight at the Olympics, but they did get the satisfaction of beating British soldiers who competed in a fitness test with them before the games.

Gabriel Bouys, AFP / Getty Images


For a country best known for a brutal civil war and its failed state status, Somalia has at least two very dedicated athletes who faced poverty and violence in their attempt to get to the Olympics, risking their lives to train in the dilapidated, bullet-scarred stadium in Mogadishu. For Somalia's Olympic hopefuls the danger is real. In April, the head of the Somali Olympic Committee was killed in a suicide bombing, and Samsam Mohamed Farah, the lone female competing for Somalia, has even received death threats.

Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, more famous for it's conflict-ridden past than stellar athletic programs, is represented by two athletes at this years Olympics. Financed by the generosity of nonprofits and local businesses, the nation's 200-meter runner and long jumper have been training for the competition in facilities in  Sussex, England. The country's athletes also have a history of applying for asylum during overseas games. In 2002, 30 athletes from Sierra Leone competed in the Manchester Commonwealth Games, but 20 had disappeared by the end. Four years later, seven more went missing from the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

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One of the world's poorest countries is sending three athletes, who note the challenges of training without resources or infrastructure to support athletics. The athletes don't have funds for a gym or, sometimes, a doctor if they need one. When Sibusiso Matsenjwa, who will be running the 200 meters, qualified to compete at the World Championships in 2009, he didn't even have the most basic equipment. "I had no shoes," he said. "Somebody borrowed me the shoes to go there and run."

Darrly Webb, Reuters / Landov

South Sudan

The world's newest country didn't qualify to send athletes to the Olympics, but that didn’t stop marathon runner Guor Marial, a South Sudanese refugee who lives under asylum in the U.S. He was unable to run for this country without being a citizen. He also refused an offer to run for Sudan, saying that 28 members of his family were lost in the civil war and he "cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people." Marial will be competing under the Olympic flag as an independent, but he says his run will really be for South Sudan.