LONDON - Hande Erel moved to London from Turkey 25 years ago and calls herself "very British." But here she is in Olympic Park with her husband and their two daughters, all four wearing bright red T-shirts emblazoned with the crescent moon and star of the Turkish flag. They're about to watch Turkey vs. USA in women's basketball, and they're getting set to make some serious noise.
"We have flags ready, we have T-shirts ready, we're well-prepared to support our team," Erel says, then, unable to suppress her enthusiasm a moment more, does a little shimmy and shouts, "Turkey! C'mon girls!"
Nearly every country taking part in the Games has its Hande Erels.
Home field advantage boosts Brits in medal count
In what might be an Olympic record, the host city includes residents from roughly 80% of the nations participating in the Games. Londoners originate from more than 170 countries; the Olympians, from 205. Experts say that New York City is one of London's few rivals for the diversity and size of its immigrant population - and New York City has never hosted an Olympics.
London's Mongolians have turned up at the Olympic boxing ring to cheer their favorite fighter. Thousands of frenzied Poles, one of the city's largest immigrant communities, have given the Polish men's volleyball team what amounts to a home-court advantage. Indian-British spectators have shouted encouragement in Hindi to a female badminton player from India.
For athletes who are competing on foreign turf, such support can make a difference.
"Clearly, this can give you a boost," says Olympics scholar Alan Tomlinson of Britain's University of Brighton. "If you hear cheering, it does affect your consciousness."
By the end of the Olympics, nearly every visiting athlete will have had the chance to hear cheers by someone from the homeland.
More than 300 languages are spoken here, compared with 200 in New York. Photographers working on a Games-time exhibit called "The World in London" found even more than the 170 countries the census found, tracking down London residents from 198 of the 205 Olympic nations, though admittedly some of the sitters had to be plucked from embassies.
The city has a centuries-long history of ethnic and national diversity, says immigration expert Anne Kershen of Queen Mary University at London.
"Going back almost to the Middle Ages, you've had an interesting kaleidoscope of immigrants," she says. Now, "you've got people from the old empire or Commonwealth, also non-Commonwealth, so you've got a tremendous mix."
A short walk in Olympic Park reveals Londoners dressed in flags and face paint from every continent except Antarctica. Though many of them have lived here a decade or more, they root first for the countries where they were born and second, though with fervor, for Great Britain.
"I love London. It's got great opportunities," says Jacqueline Thompson, an investment banker from South Africa who has lived in London for 13 years and has just finished rooting for the South African field hockey team. But, "South Africa is my home."
Asked why she supports Turkey after so many years of living in London, Erel answers, "Blood, isn't it? Red blood. When you are far from your country, you feel more support." But whenever Turkey is not playing, she's cheering for Team GB, as Britain's Olympians are known.
Not so for Australian native Glen Heidke, a manager for gym chain Virgin Active who has lived in London a decade.
"I prefer someone else to win than Great Britain," says Heidke, who is wearing an Aussie-flag cape and shorts in Aussie colors. "We're such rivals. It's in-built to us not to support Britain. That's the way it is."
Scholars who study sports and nationalism say they are not surprised by such sentiments. First-generation immigrants might have to adopt their new country's language and cultural rules, but they can hold on to the motherland's sporting heroes for comfort.
"One of the things minority groups in Britain haves always clung to has been sports teams," says Alan Bairner, a sociologist of sports at Britain's Loughborough University. "Sport gives you a venue where you can publicly go out and support your country of origin and fly your flag."
London, with its wild multicultural mix and history of tolerance, accepts newcomers who don't assimilate entirely, says Kershen.
"You have the choice as to whether to integrate or retain your own ethnic identity and background, and to mix and match when you want," she says. Support for the country of birth "is almost natural ... unless you were a refugee."
That exception is proved by Stephen Jey, who is walking near Trafalgar Square wearing a Team GB shirt and a plastic bowler hat emblazoned with the Union Jack. Jey, an IT manager, emigrated from war-torn Sri Lanka as a student, and is now a staunch fan of the British Olympics team.
"This country gave us shelter," he says. Britons do "not judge us by color or ethnic group. As long as you do the right thing, you get justice. That's why we love this country."