The man, believed to be a middle distance runner in his mid 20s from Africa, was being held by the UK Borders Agency last night after walking into a police station in Leeds and asking for asylum.
The claim comes at a hugely sensitive time for the government just two days before the showpiece Opening Ceremony.
It follows warnings from immigration officials that they fear up to 2 per cent of athletes, team officials and supporters may claim refuge in the UK during and after the Games or try to stay on once their visas expire.
But the claim even before competition has begun is said to have shocked both Border Agency officials and ministers as they prepare to host some 120 world leaders tomorrow, when London 2012 is opened by the Queen.
It is understood the athlete disappeared from a pre-Olympics training camp in order to claim asylum, just as he and his team was preparing to move to the athletes’ village in Stratford, East London.
The sportsman, whose identity was not revealed by the authorities, claimed he was a victim of persecution in his homeland and is due to be questioned this week.
Details of the claim emerged yesterday in the Olympic Village where one East African team official said he believed a second man – an Olympic official – was also preparing to seek asylum.
Last night a spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said a man who was ‘believed to be an Olympic athlete’ walked into Bridewell police station in Leeds on Tuesday.
She said he was believed to be ‘seeking asylum’ and added: ‘We did detain a man, but we didn’t arrest him. He was handed over to the UK Border Agency who are now dealing with it.’
The spokesman had no details of the man’s nationality and could not elaborate on the asylum situation.
Immigration officials were checking the man’s travel papers and Olympic accreditation documents as well as his movements since arriving in Britain. They were trying to establish whether he has relatives already living in this country.
Sources said that after turning his back on his homeland, it was inconceivable he would now take part in the Olympics.
His whereabouts were unclear last night but Home Office sources suggested he was in ‘secure accommodation’ outside London while his case is investigated. daily mail