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Numbers show black athletes making inroads in winter sports

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

He said the some of the gains can be attributed to athletes like bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor, who has personally recruited minority athletes from track and field and other sports for the U.S. bobsled program.

Three of the four members U.S. women bobsledders -- including Meyers Taylor -- competing in Pyeongchang are African-American, as is the team's backup athlete. Seven of the nine women on the 2017 U.S. women's national bobsled team are black.

"She creating an incredible legacy," Thompson said of Meyers Taylor. "Every female that we interview on the team says 'Yeah, she recruited me.' It's a simple thing that she did, it didn't cost anything. It just shows what can be done."

However, several winter sports continue to lag when it comes to racial diversity, despite achievements by black athletes at previous Winter Olympics.

Sixteen years ago, Vonetta Flowers became the first African-American athlete to win an Olympic gold medal when her two-person bobsled finished first at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Figure skater Debi Thomas captured a bronze medal at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Shani Davis earned speedskating gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games in Turin and Vancouver.

The 2014 U.S. women's Olympic bobsled team, which featured five black women, captured silver and bronze medals at the Winter Games in Sochi.

Some experts say economics and geography are barriers that keep communities of color from participating in winter sports in large numbers.

Sports such as ice hockey, speedskating, skiing and figure skating are expensive and often require traveling distances to get to slopes or rinks to practice or play.

"The NHL has done a good job in trying to make hockey popular in urban areas and I think they've had some success in the last 15 years or so," said Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

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