The 2018 Winter Olympics has been marred as a forum for peace and international comity while the United States Winter Olympic team appears to be engaged in racial controversy just before opening ceremonies in Seoul on Friday. Shani Davis, who is one of the very few black Americans on TeamUSA, is claiming that he should have been chosen to carry the American Flag during the Parade of Nations scheduled for Pyeonghchang, South Korea.

Speed-skater Davis says that he lost what he called a “dishonorable” coin toss to Erin Hamlin, a white female American athlete, who will compete in luge events. A tweet posted at Davis’s Twitter account charged that Hamlin’s selection was “dishonorable,” while including a reference to Black History Month. The disputed coin toss was necessary because both Davis and Hamlin received four votes each in the final balloting among fellow athletes. The coin toss settled the tie.

 

Davis has won two Olympic gold medals and two silvers in previous Olympics. On Twitter, he slammed Hamlin, who has so far taken only a bronze. “I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event,” Davis tweeted. He also criticized TeamUSA for “dishonorably” tossing a coin to decide who would be the bannerman at the opening of the Olympics. “No problem. I can wait until 2022,” tweeted Davis, who added the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018.

Currently, TeamUSA consists of a total 243 athletes. Of these, 11 are of Asian origin, while 10 are black Americans. That is a ratio that is far lower than the number of non-white athletes sent to the summer Olympic Games. In 2012, the U.S. Olympic Committee was formed a committee to attract minority athletes, hiring Jason Thompson as director of diversity and inclusion.

So far, Davis has not clarified why he chose to include the hashtag commemorating Black History Month. Some Twitter users asked why he had injected race into the Olympics. He is the first black American to win an Olympic gold medal at a Winter Olympics.

Hamlin is 31 years old and has already announced that 2018 will be her last Olympic run. She was the first American to win an Olympic medal in luge competition, which is dominated by Europeans. She told USA Today: “Winning a medal is the effort you put in and the time and the work and sacrifice to succeed and achieve something. That's all on me. That's something I've done.”

Hamlin has told the story about the pride her parents show by attending the Olympics opening ceremony, which comes at the cost of high-priced tickets. “They're really pumped. I'm sure my brothers will be. We've grown up watching the Olympics and we're always like, 'Who's going to be carrying the flag?' And to actually be that person is insane.”

Hamlin has been in Olympic competition on four other occasions, winning the bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games, and was twice a world champion and also a winner of 23 World Cup medals. She has been competing for nearly two decades.

Davis is a five-time Olympian, and has won two gold medals and two silver medals. He will be 39 at the next Winter Olympics, which will be held in China in 2022. He has been the focus of controversy in past. In 2006, he decided not to participate in an event at the Turin Games, causing a rift with teammates. Davis stormed out of a news conference when he was confronted by teammate Chad Hedrick about his non-participation.

In 2006, Davis - the first African-American to win an individual gold medal at a Winter Games - decided not to take part in the team pursuit at the Turin Games and raised the ire of teammate Chad Hedrick. Their animosity toward one another was obvious at a news conference, when Hedrick brought up the team pursuit and Davis stormed out of the room.


 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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