For 90 years, the Winter Olympics have been a mostly exclusionary event for Black athletes. This year, however, the Sochi, Russia games, which begin this week, will see a different hue, with Black athletes taking the stage like never before. According to an article on The Root, nearly four decades since American pairs skater Tai Babalonia became the first Winter Olympian of African heritage in 1976, we are witnessing a great achievement in the stride towards diversity in the Winter Olympic games. In 1980, American bobsledders Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley became the first Black men to compete in a Winter Olympics. Eight years later, in Calgary, ice skater Debi Thomas, a Stanford University student, became the first Black Winter Olympian to win a medal, bringing home the bronze.
The 2014 Sochi Olympics, which begin tomorrow, will witness Shani Davis back in action. The 31-year-old speed-skating veteran is looking to defend his Vancouver Gold Medal in the 1,000 meter race and become the first male Olympian to win the same individual event in three successive Winter Games, since a Swedish figure skater in 1928. Already boasting four Olympic medals, Davis will be chasing the medal tally of two American speed-skating legends: Eric Heiden, who has 5 medals, and Bonnie Blair, who has 6.
In Sochi, there are five African-American women on the six-woman U.S. bobsled team. The U.S. will send out three teams in two-person competitions. This means that for the first time in Olympic history, Black athletes will have moved to the front of the sled. The two Black drivers, Elana Meyers, who won bronze in Vancouver as a brakeman-push athlete, and Jazmine Fenlator, ranked seventh in the world, will compete together. Olympian Lolo Jones, who lost her lead in 2008 after stumbling over the next-to-last hurdle in a race, finishing in seventh, will return and go for Gold in Sochi, this time alongside the Jamaican bobsled team. The Jamaican bobsledders, whose 1988 Calgary victory was chronicled in the hit 1993 film, Cool Runnings, have had a decade-long absence from the games.