PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – The most diverse Winter Olympics in history ended with black athletes on the medal stand and at the bottom of standings of their particular sport here in PyeongChang.
The cliche that “a picture is worth a thousand words” was apropos following the women’s two-person bobsled competition Wednesday night when four black women from three countries posed on the medal stand with Olympic gold, silver, and bronze around their necks.
The German team of pilot Mariama Jamanka, the daughter of a Gambian father, and brakeman Lisa Buckwitz won the gold medal; U.S. pilot Elana Meyers Taylor and brakeman Lauren Gibbs captured the silver medal; and the Canadian duo of Kaillie Humphries and Phylicia George, who ran the 100-meter hurdles at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, captured the bronze.
Meyers Taylor, who won her third Olympic medal in two Winter Games, took note of the moment.
“It shows the growth of our sport. The more eyeballs there are on the sport, it will get more diverse,” said said. “I want to represent my color and ethnicity. To be proud of our heritage is really cool. I’m proud of changing the landscape in our sport.”
Much was made these games about the presence of the first women’s bobsled teams from Jamaica and Nigeria, along with the first-time skeleton athletes from those countries and Ghana.
They didn’t fare well in competition. The Jamaican team of pilot Jazmine Fenlator- Victorian and brakeman Carrie Russell finished 18th in the two-person bobsled event and Nigerian pilot Andigun Seun and brakeman Ngozi Onwumere finished 19th.
Nigerian skeleton athlete Simidele Adeagbo finished 20th – last – in the women’s event. On the men’s side, Anthony Watson of Jamaica was 29th and Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong finished dead last in 30th place.
Jamaica and Nigeria being at the 2018 Winter Games generated a lot of press. But it also obscured the fact that even so-called traditional winter sports countries had a significant black presence on their teams.
The U.S. men’s hockey team failed to make it to the medal round and the Canadian women’s hockey team won a disappointing silver medal.
But U.S. forward Jordan Greenway, a Boston University junior forward and the first African-American to play for a U.S. Olympic hockey team, received good reviews for his play in PyeongChang. He scored a goal in five games.
Team Canada’s Sarah Nurse also had a goal in five Winter Olympic contests. The Hockey Hall of Fame requested and received the former University of Wisconsin forward’s white Team Canada jersey to put on display at the Toronto hockey museum.
French figure skater Mae-Berenice Meite competed in her second Winter Games – 2014 in Sochi, Russia was her first – finishing 19th in the ladies’ single free skate program. Still, she dazzled the crowd in PyeongChang with a costume change in the middle of one of her routines.
The parade of warm weather countries at the 2018 Winter Games included Sabrina Simader, a Kenyan Alpine skier who finished 38th in her event; Mathilde-Amivi Petitjean, a Togolese cross country skier who finished 83rd in the women’s 10-kilometer free ski competition.
All this infusion of color at Winter Games prompted the BBC to write a story asking if black athletes from African countries were competing for the love of the sport or for their 15 minutes of fame, noting that several of the athletes don’t live or weren’t born in the countries they represented here.
“Africans live elsewhere in the world, not only in Africa, and they have the right to represent their country even if they don’t live in their mother country,” said Pettjean, who was born in Togo but raised in the French Alps, where she learned to ski.
Nigeria’s Seun, who lives in Houston, Texas, said participating in the Winter Olympics is all about growing her sport, not about seeking personal glory.
“We already have things in place now to get people interested in the process,” she said. “So we are excited to see how the sport of bobsled comes around in the continent of African.”
Germany’s Jamanka said she’s “proud that Africans start here for the African nations” but added that she won’t be switching over to the Gambian bobsled team, if they ever get one.
“I’m feeling German, and that’s why I will start for Germany for as long as possible,” she said.
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