Numbers show black athletes making inroads in winter sports

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

"However, when you look at all the sports across the board, there just aren't facilities in urban areas where such a significant percentage of African-Americans live. And they're expensive sports to play, for the most part."

But others say that attitudes and stereotypes within some winter sports are bigger obstacles for athletes of color to overcome. Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, the Jamaican bobsled team's pilot, recalled the looks she and her teammates received when they arrived at a recent meet in Europe.

"When you walk into a place and you're expected to look a certain way to do your job or a sport, that's very demeaning," said Fenlator-Victorian, who was a member of the 2014 U.S. women's Olympic bobsled team. "To me, it's a lack of education and lack of representation. If we can continue to get representation out there that means there are more opportunities to educate more people."

The U.S. delegation is a team of firsts. Jordan Greenway, a forward for Boston University hockey team and a 2015 second-round draft pick of the National Hockey League's Minnesota Wild, will be the first African-American to play on a U.S. Olympic hockey squad.

His path to Pyeongchang was paved when the league announced that it wouldn't suspend its operations to allow players to compete for their countries at the Olympics, as it had since 1998. The move forced U.S. hockey officials to build an Olympic team with collegiate and minor-league talent and Americans playing professionally in Europe and Russia

Black athletes will compete in a host of other sports. Erin Jackson, a 25-year-old competitive inline skating veteran and roller derby skater from Ocala, Fla., is the first black American female long track Olympic speedskater, qualifying for the team after making the transition from wheels to steel blades in four months.

"It's kind of a known thing that there aren't many people of color in the Winter Olympics," Jackson said. "If there's a young black girl out there watching the Winter Olympics and she says, 'There aren't many people like me out there,' she might feel discouraged trying some of these sports that she sees.

"I'm looking forward to being someone who she can see in the Olympics, on TV, and think 'There someone out there like me, so I can do it, too.' "

Maame Biney, a Ghanian-born 18-year-old from Reston, Va., is the first U.S. black female Olympic short track speedskater. Many predict she'll become a star.


"She's got the physical tools to be the world's best," said Nathaniel Mills, a three-time Olympian who coached Biney when she was younger at a learn-to-skate program at a Washington, D.C. indoor ice rink. "If she stays healthy, she could rewrite the record book."

Biney and Jackson are among five African-Americans on the speedskating teams. Long track legend Davis, the first African-American to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Games, returns for his third Winter Olympics.

Kimani Griffin, 28-year-old long track skater from Winston Salem, N.C., makes his Olympic debut. And Anthony Barthell, from High Point, N.C., coaches the U.S. short track team.

"We're taking over another sport," Griffin joked. "I don't know why this is happening, but I like it."

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