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Numbers show black athletes making inroads in winter sports

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

WASHINGTON -- Forget about using #OlympicsSoWhite when the 2018 Winter Olympics open in Pyeongchang, South Korea next Friday

The XXIII Winter Olympics will have the largest contingent of black athletes and coaches in Winter Games history, helping to shatter the stereotype that blacks are averse to so-called non-traditional winter sports. Many experts, though, think the numbers should be higher.

The United States this year will have its most diverse team ever. Ten black, 11Asian-American, and two openly gay male athletes will be among the record 242-member U.S. team that will march into a Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony of the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games.

In addition, three Caribbean and Sub-Saharan African nations will join the U.S. in the diversity parade. Jamaica is back at the Winter Games, this time with its first women's bobsled team and its first skeleton athlete.

Nigeria will make its Winter Olympics debut with its own women's bobsled team and a skeleton athlete. Ghana will have a lone Olympian in Pyeongchang, the nation's first skeleton racer.

"It's important because it demonstrates that there is progress being made through the hard work perseverance and talents of athletes of color who are making the U.S. Winter Olympic team look like the United States, and that's something we should celebrate," said David Leonard, a Washington State University's Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies.

But Leonard and others say the diversity issue is far from settled. Some winter sports, notably biathlon and speedskating, fell short of the United States Olympic Committee leadership's 2016 diversity and inclusion scorecard benchmarks for athletes of color on U.S. national teams, the most recent data available.

The diversity goals are different for each sport and include criteria such as financial resources, staff size, and a particular sport's NCAA pipeline.

"The fact that there's still work to be done demonstrates that issues surrounding access, surrounding inequalities, persist," Leonard said.

Jason Thompson, the USOC's director for diversity and inclusion, acknowledged that the organization "Is not where we want to be" in terms of diversity but is encouraged nonetheless by the number of players of color competing in Pyeongchang.

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