18 black athletes and their inspiring 2018 Winter Olympics stories
The Winter Olympics and Black History Month both take place in February, and countless black fans will no doubt be cheering on the black athletes competing for gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I’m rooting for everybody black,” will be a mood for many watching the games, to paraphrase Issa Rae’s famous proclamation at the 2017 Emmy Awards. Because let’s face it: Representation still matters, especially at the word’s most global sporting event.
It’s been 30 years since former Olympic figure skater Debi Thomas became the first black American to earn a medal at the Winter Games, winning bronze in 1988. In the 2018 Games, there are many firsts and exciting storylines surrounding black athletes to follow once the opening ceremony kicks off on Feb. 9.
Multiple Team USA athletes are breaking barriers for black women in speed skating. Viewers can watch the first African-American athlete ever to compete in ice hockey. Olympians from Ghana, Eritrea and Nigeria will represent their countries for the first-time in the skeleton, bobsledding and alpine skiing events.
Get to know the inspiring black athletes from around the world slated to hit the slopes and rinks at the 2018 Winter Olympics:
Nigeria’s bobsled team
Nigeria’s bobsled team is making history in more ways than one. Not only do they make Nigeria the first African country to compete in Olympic bobsledding, they will be the first Nigerian athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics ever.
The team consists of driver and team captain Seun Adigun and brakewomen Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga. The talented three are former track and field athletes who grew up in the United States. Adigun was born and raised in Chicago. Onwumere is from Dallas. And Omeoga is from St. Paul, Minnesota.
Though all three are American by nationality, Adigun was drawn to the historic opportunity to don Nigeria’s black and green at the international games, and decided to take it on.
“I was a member of the U.S. team for a year when I learned that Nigeria had never had a bobsled team, and then I found out that Africa had never been represented by any man or woman in this sport at all,” the Olympian told the New York Times.
Team USA’s black speed skaters
Erin Jackson is the first black woman to qualify for Team USA’s long-track speed skating team. The Ocala, Florida, native is a former competitive in-line skater who began speed-skating less than a year ago.
“I really wasn’t expecting it coming in,” she told NBC after the qualifying race. “Pretty cool.”
The young athlete was born in Accra, Ghana, and moved to Reston, Virginia, at age six. Biney, who also began speed skating at six, will be competing in her first Olympics at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Biney is also the 2017 World Junior Championships bronze medalist in the 500m short-track.
Speed skater and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Shani Davis will be competing in his fifth Winter Olympics this year.
The 35-year-old Chicago-native is a decorated speed skater. He is the first African-American to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics. In 2006 and 2010, he won gold in the men’s 1000m and silver medals in the men’s 1500m. He is also a four-time 1000m and three-time 1500m world champion.
Junior world champion gold medalist Jordan Greenway is breaking color barriers on the U.S. hockey team.
At 20 years old, Greenway will be the first African-American to compete in the sport for Team USA. Greenway hails from Canton, New York, and is on the Boston University hockey team.
In 2015, he was a second-round NHL draft pick, selected by the Minnesota Wild at number 50.
For Shannon Ogbano-Abeda, competing as an alpine skier in the Olympics is a dream come true. At the end of 2017, the Eritrean-Canadian overcame a knee injury to qualify for the games and represent the East African country.
Abeda, 21, was born and raised in Alberta, Canada. His parents came from Eritrea as refugees.
This is the first time Eritrea will have representation in the Winter Olympics. Abeda first competed at an international level during the Youth Olympics in 2012 and has represented his parents’ homeland ever since.
“I’ve been very humbled by the response and support I’ve received, especially from the Eritrean-Canadian community,” he told CBC in December. “They look up to me and I never imagined myself being in that position.”
Simidele Adeagbo narrowly missed making the U.S. Summer Olympic team in triple jump during trials in 2008. She subsequently gave up on her track and field Olympic goals, until December 2016, when she heard about the Nigerian bobsled team.
She asked the three women on the team — Adigun, Onwumere and Omeoga, mentioned above — if she could join. They told her only two of them were competing in the bobsled competition, and that one was serving as an alternate.
Then in July 2017, Adeagbo heard about tryouts for the Nigerian Bobsled and Skeleton Federation through Instagram. Adeagbo went and competed, and then received a call back for training. After qualifying, the 36-year-old will see her Olympic dreams realized. For Adeagbo, it’s now bigger than just winning. She is now the first Nigerian to compete in the skeleton sport in the Olympics.
“Ultimately, for me, this is about breaking barriers in winter sports. It’s about making history. And leaving a legacy. It’s about moving sport forward,” she said in a press release. “That’s so much bigger than just me being an Olympian.”
Team USA’s bobsled team
Team USA will feature the return of bobsled driver Elana Meyers Taylor, who won a silver medal at the 2014 games and a bronze medal in 2010.
Lauren Gibbs will be competing in her first Winter Olympics this year. The 33-year-old will be the pusher on Meyers Taylor’s team. She is a former Brown University volleyball player who quit her corporate sales job after a successful Olympic tryout in 2013.
Chris Kinney, 29, is heading to the Olympics for the first time. Kinney was formerly an All-American hurdler at Georgetown University. He competed on the USA Bobsled and Skeleton team in August 2014 for “fun,” he told the Washington Post. After the experience he decided to shift his athletic ambitions to bobsledding. The decision was worth it.
“My childhood dream came true,” he said on Instagram in January.
Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, 30, is one of the newest members of the men’s bobsled team. The former University of Virginia at Wise football player has competed in the Bobsleigh World Cup for three straight seasons between 2015 and 2017. The Powhatan, Virginia, native will be joining both two-man and four-man bobsled competitions.
Thirty-two-year-old Akwasi Frimpong brings pride to Ghana as the first Olympic athlete to compete for the country in the skeleton event. Frimpong was born in the West African country, and was raised in the Netherlands from age 8 onward.
His athletic journey began with track, but an injury caused him to miss competing in the 2012 London Summer Games. Frimpong switched to bobsledding, but did not make the cut for the 2014 Dutch team. He then set his sights on skeleton and qualified to compete. This time he chose to represent his birth country.
Jamaica’s bobsled team
Thirty years after Jamaica sent its first bobsled team to the Olympics — an iconic movement that inspired the film Cool Runnings — Jamaica is sending its first women’s bobsled team.
American-born Jazmine Fenlator, who competed with Team USA in 2014, will be team captain. The 32-year-old is excited to compete for her father’s birthplace.
“By coming from a large nation that has a lot of fortune, funding and success, I thought that I could use my skills, my talent to build my other nation, Jamaica, into a large platform for athletes from track and field and other sports to funnel and broaden their horizon of winter sports,” Fenlator told Team USA in 2015.
Jamaican brakewoman Carrie Russell, 27, won gold in the 4x100m relay at the World Athletics Championships in 2013. This will be her first Winter Olympics. The team rounds out with alternate Audra Segree, 27, another Jamaican brakewoman, who is a former sprinter.