Diversity at the 2018 Winter Olympics

On February 8, the 2018 Winter Olympics kicked off in PyeongChang. What many viewers won’t see on their televisions during the Winter Olympics is diversity amongst the Olympians, regardless of the fact that it features athletes from all across the globe.

Truthfully, the Winter Olympics have never featured a diverse cast of athletes. The events that take place attract more predominately white and wealthy athletes from the Scandinavian region, as well as the cold parts of first-world countries including the United States.

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However, the top stories from this year’s Olympics showcase an emerging group of diverse athletes who are appearing in PyeongChang.

Thanks in part to a lot of recognition from social media, diversity has been largely talked about and a spotlight has been shone on some of this year’s fan favorites.

Out of the U.S. Olympic team’s 243 athletes, 10 are African American and 10 are Asian American. According to the U.S., this is the most diverse team the country has ever fielded at the Winter Olympics. But, within that list are Erin Jackson, the first African-American women to make the long-track speed skating team, and Jordan Greenway, the first African American to make the men’s national hockey team.

 Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

Most notably for the U.S. this year is Maame Biney. The 17-year-old is the first black woman to compete in speedskating for America. She was born in Ghana and moved to the U.S. when she was 5 and began taking figure skating lessons. It was her speed, which was way too fast, which lead her to learn how to speed skate.

“I’m actually here at the Olympic Games,” Biney said at the Opening Olympics. “Holy cow. It’s awesome.”

In addition to the U.S. team, trending on the internet after the Opening Ceremony was Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless Tongan flagbearer who is in his second Olympic games. He also appeared in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, competing in Tae Kwon Do. He was an internet sensation then for the oiled, bare skin he showcased while carrying the Tongan national flag. He was back at it these games, where he will compete in cross-country skiing.

According to the New York Times, 13 athletes from eight African countries are competing in this year’s Winter Olympics. However, no athlete from an African nation has won a Winter Olympics medal.

The Nigerian bobsled team hopes to break that trend. They are the first African team to compete in the bobsled event during the Winter Olympic games. And they are already sort of celebrities. In December, they appeared on the Ellen Show as well as numerous advertisement campaigns including Beats by Dre.

Another bobsled team taking the world by force is the Jamaican bobsled team.

“It’s important to me that little girls and boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin-included in different things in the world,” said Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, who has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Jamaica. She competed for the U.S. bobsled team in 2014, but decided to represent Jamaica in PyeongChang. “When you grow up and you don’t see that, you feel that you can’t do it and that is not right.”

Both the Jamaican and Nigerian bobsled teams start their events on February 20.

While we wait, let’s look back to the 1988 Winter Olympics and the Jamaican bobsled team. The team didn’t medal, but did inspire the movie Cool Runnings, one of John Candy’s last films.


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