Chicago’s speeding skating world champion Shani Davis, one of America’s most decorated athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics, lost the honor to carry the flag for Team USA during the opening ceremonies on a coin toss.
On the coin toss, the honor passed to Erin Hamlin, a four-time Olympic luger, who won a bronze medal at the Winter Olympics in 2014.
Davis, the first African American to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics, skipped the opening ceremonies, The Washington Post reported.
“One representative from each of the eight U.S. winter sports federations voted, and because Hamlin and Davis each received four votes, the decision was left to a coin toss, in a process established beforehand by the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
The move has raised questions about the standards and criteria that Team USA uses in giving the highest honor to an Olympic athlete.
Davis shared his displeasure on social media.
“I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to compete in that event,” Davis tweeted. “@TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018”
Hamlin carried the American flag into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea leading the 244-member American team into the $60 million stadium to kick off the two-week Winter Games.
With two gold medals, two silvers and a groundbreaking career, the honor should have gone to Davis, critics of the coin toss have said, a celebrated speed skater with a 16-year career that also includes 10 world championships and four world records in speed skating. He is one of the most senior members on the team who broke racial barriers in a sport that has traditionally been dominated by athletes from more affluent ethnic groups. A native of Chicago, Davis dispelled stereotypes and beat odds to achieve his Olympic dreams. His unprecedented success has paved the way for a new generation of African American athletes who are competing in this year’s Winter Games. Davis is now competing in his fifth Winter Olympics. But at 35, this will likely be Davis’ last chance to be honored by carrying the flag for Team USA.
Hamlin is a four-time Olympic luger and the first American female luger to win a medal at any Olympics. She won a bronze medal at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014 and became “the first U.S. athlete to win an Olympic singles luge medal in the sport’s 50-year Olympic history,” according to Team USA.
While her historic victory at the Sochi games was unprecedented, some would argue that Hamlin’s accomplishments are not as impressive as the gold and silver medals Davis amassed in an illustrious career that spans nearly two decades.
Questions remain as to why Team USA executives did not break the tie by evaluating Hamlin’s and Davis’ Olympic credentials and overall record. Davis’ selection as a flag bearer would have reflected Team USA’s crop of athletes, which the organization says is the country’s most diverse group ever. Since 1924, there has never been an African American flag bearer in Winter Games.
Very few people of color have had opportunities to train and excel in winter sports in inner city neighborhoods.
Christy Cahill, the director of communications for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said in an e-mail: “We don’t publicly share the details of the election, just the process and the result.”
Cahill confirmed that a coin toss is held in the event of a tie in this process. She also said: “Medals generally don’t factor into this decision.