Greetings from Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The National Hockey League temporarily shutters its 2013-14 season next week to enable its players to represent their countries in Sochi, a subtropical seaside city with snowcapped mountains about an hour’s train ride away. Several of the medal-seeking countries have diverse rosters. Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, the son of Caribbean immigrants, and goaltender Carey Price, whose mother is a former Ulkatcho First Nations chief, are playing for Canada. Their Montreal teammate Raphael Diaz, a defenseman who’s part Spanish, is representing Switzerland. Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya who’s of partial Kenyan descent, is skating for his native Sweden; St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie, who is part Ojibwe is on Team U.S.A.; and Buffalo Sabres Head Coach Ted Nolan, Ojibwe/First Nations, is the Latvian Olympic hockey team’s bench boss.
Coaching Latvia is just another highlight in a comeback season for Nolan, who was an NHL coaching outcast for 16 years before the team that fired him brought him back. Latvia asked him to be the national team’s coach in 2011. “The first thing I mentioned to (national team representatives) was whether I could coach Latvia in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games,” Nolan told the Olympic News Service. “I’m no different than most people in that I want to be in the NHL, but I wanted to coach Latvia and fulfill my obligation.” Hockey won’t be the only diverse sport in Sochi. The Winter Olympics has a rich tradition of athletes of color excelling in sports wrongly perceived as exclusively white. From 1988 Bronze Medal-winning American figure skater Debi Thomas, to 1992 Gold Medal-winning American figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, to bobsledder Vonetta Flowers, who in 2002 became the first African-American athlete to win a Winter Olympics Gold Medal, people of color have shown the mettle at the Winter Games.
Expect more of the same at Sochi.
American Speed skater Shani Davis is back for another Winter Olympics, hoping to add to the Gold and Silver medals he collected in Turin, Italy in 2006, and Vancouver, Canada in 2010.
Davis presents an interesting profile: Someone who’s part of the U.S. speed skating team yet apart from it. The system works for both parties.
“This is how I like to do things,” Davis told Olympic News Service. “Sometimes you will see me (training) on my own and sometimes with the team. It depends. I am an individual athlete. For me, competing is winning and I’ve made it a long way.” For the most diverse sport at the Winter Games, look no further than the bobsled competition. Bobsled teams looking for muscle and power to help launch the vehicle down the icy course have increasingly turned to track and field athletes to serve as pushers. The U.S. women’s bobsled team features five women of color - Elana Meyers, Aja
Evans, Lolo Jones, Jazmine Fenlator and Lauryn Williams. Track stars Jones and Williams are the ninth and tenth Americans to participate in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Other black bobsledders in Sochi include Joel Fearon and Lamin Deen of Great Britain and Bryan Barnett of Canada. Then there’s The Jamaican Bobsled Team, back after a 12-year Winter Olympics absence. The JamBob boys, whose 1988 Olympic debut inspired the Disney movie “Cool Runnings,” qualified for the two-man bobsled competition in Sochi and are out to prove that they’re more than a novelty. “We’re pretty good,” 46-year bobsled driver Winston Watts and Winter Olympics veteran told the Associated Press. “We’re not there with the rest of the world, of course. But if we had some more sources for funding, we’d have a better chance.”
The world responded to Watt’s plea by donating $80,000 to help get him and teammate Marvin Dixon to Sochi.
Michael Martinez is a young man of many firsts. He was the first Olympic figure skater to hit the practice rink in Sochi this week. He’s the first-ever Olympic figure skater to represent the Philippines. And at 17, he’s the youngest figure-skating competitor at the Winter Games. As the Philippines’ only athlete in Sochi, Martinez will carry his country’s flag in the Games’ opening ceremony.
“I feel like, oh my gosh, all the hard work has paid off. I’m here,” he told Olympic News Service. “I am happy and proud to have made it. It means a lot to me. I put every effort and sacrifice into the sport.” Martinez knows he won’t win any medals. He’s just thrilled to be here.
So is Dachhiri Sherpa, a cross country skier from Nepal who’s brutally frank about how he’ll do in his competition.
“I think there is a very good chance I will finish last,” the 44-year-old Sherpa told Olympic News Service. “But the placing is not important if I can teach young people in Nepal about the Olympic spirit. The spirit is in my heart.”
Some folks wish that spirit extended to South Africa’s national Olympic committee. It decided not to send 18-year-old Sive Speelman, a black South African skier, to Sochi to compete in the slalom event even though he met qualifying standards under Olympic rules.
But South Africa’s national Olympic committee said Speelman failed to “meet minimum requirements” for them.
The organization told the BBC that it has an obligation to use only its best sportspeople in international competition.
“What a sad day. Sive Speelman qualified to compete at the Winter Olympics Games in Sochi, but SACOC has denied him the opportunity to race and raise South Africa’s flag,” Alex Heath, a three-time Winter Olympian from South Africa and Speelman’s coach wrote on Facebook. “It is an embarrassment to sport and the Olympic ideals.”
Peter Pilz, president of Snow Sport SA, told the Associated Press: “It’s actually a dream story that’s come true and is just what South Africa needs at this point in time. And it’s just sad.”
Note: For interesting and insightful news, features, sports, and entertainment stories and multimedia presentations throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics, visit McClatchy Newspapers at www.mcclatchydc.com.