Black History

Maame Biney
Maame Biney competes in the women’s 500-meters during the U.S.Olympic short track speedskating trials Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In 1968, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made history. It cost them a painful penny to make a statement by using one pair of black gloves and sharing them, Tommie Smith wearing the right glove and the John Carlos wearing the left glove, as they raised their fists in defiance of oppression and discrimination in the US during the tumultuous decade that defined many young Americans. It cost them, but they made history.

Likewise, fifty years later, African and African-American athletes are still making history. Jennifer Calfas wrote this worthy article for Time Magazine about how many athletes of color are making history at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. It’s worth the read.

“Erin Jackson never expected to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The inline skater, who was accustomed to racing on wheels, had just four months of training in long-track speedskating before she hit the ice at the U.S. speedskating trials in early January. She hoped to someday reach the Olympics, an international competition unattainable in the inline skating world. But she was shocked when she qualified right behind Olympic veterans Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma, becoming the first African-American woman ever to join Team USA’s Olympic long-track speedskating team.

Jackson is one of a group of athletes in the U.S. and around the world breaking barriers in their sports at the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Maame Biney became the first African-American woman to qualify for Team USA’s speed-skating team. Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon will become the first openly gay male athletes to compete at a Winter Olympics for the U.S. And an African nation will compete in bobsled for the first time with Nigeria’s team of Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga and Ngozi Onwumere, and the country’s first-ever skeleton athlete, Simidele Adeagbo.

These boundary-breakers could represent a changing look for the Winter Olympics, which, in its beginnings, was dominated by wealthy Nordic and Scandinavian countries. Even now, less than half as many countries participate in the Winter Olympics as the Summer Olympics. “These are not sports that have a real background in that many countries,” said Olympic historian David Wallechinsky. “In very few countries do people go with their buddies and do curling.”

Countries in warmer climates are at a particular disadvantage in preparing for the icy sports of the Winter Games. As Jackson trained for her first Winter Olympics, she offered advice for young athletes of color who hope to compete internationally.

‘Don’t let the representation or lack thereof deter you from getting out there and trying these sports,’ she said. ‘Even if you don’t see other athletes out there, it’s always nice to be the first.’

Adeagbo is not only part of Nigeria’s first Winter Olympic team, but also the first Nigerian, African or black female athlete to compete in skeleton, a sport in which a competitor rides down an ice track on a sled, face-down.

Adeagbo was once a track star who was a two-time U.S. Olympic Trials finalist in the triple jump in 2004 and 2008. While she did not qualify back then, the 36-year-old athlete came out of her retirement from track and field to compete in skeleton.

‘This is about breaking barriers in winter sports,” she told Nike, where she works as a marketing manager in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It’s about making history. And leaving a legacy. It’s about moving sport forward. That’s so much bigger than just me being an Olympian.”

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