The United States Winter Olympic team has become involved in a bitter race row which threatens to overshadow its appearance at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Speedskater Shani Davis, one of a handful of black athletes in TeamUSA, says he should have been chosen to carry the Stars and Stripes in the Parade of Nations ceremony in Pyeonghchang, South Korea.
But instead, he lost on a coin toss to luger Erin Hamlin, after a vote among sports federations represented at the games ended in a tie.
Pictured: United States’ athletes Erin Hamlin, left, and Shani Davis. A tweet posted to the account of Davis is blasting the selection of luge athlete Hamlin as the U.S. flagbearer for the opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang Games. The tweet says the selection was made ‘dishonorably,’ and included a reference to Black History Month in a hashtag. Hamlin and Davis each got four votes in the final balloting of the athlete-led process
In an angry tweet, Davis, who has won two golds and two silvers in previous Olympics took a shot at Hamlin, the holder of a single bronze medal.
‘I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event,’ Davis wrote on Twitter.
He then slammed TeamUSA for ‘dishonorably’ tossing a coin to decide who would have the honor of carrying the flag.
‘No problem. I can wait until 2022,’ he added before using the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018.
He offered no explanation as to why he included the hashtag but it sparked fury on Twitter as multiple users asked: Did you just make this about race?
Davis will be 39 by the time of the next Winter Games to be held in Beijing, China. Hamlin, 31, the first American to medal in luge singles, has already announced this will be her last Olympics as she is retiring immediately after these games.
Hamlin did not address the controversy but told USA Today: ‘Winning a medal is the effort you put in and the time and the work and sacrifice to succeed and achieve something. That’s all on me. That’s something I’ve done.
Hours before the tweet was posted, Hamlin was beaming about the opportunity. The four-time Olympian told the story about how her parents, Ron and Eileen Hamlin, always wrestle with the decision about whether to spend the money for high-priced tickets to the opening ceremony – and in the end, always go to see their daughter march into the stadium with her U.S. teammates.
‘I think they’re going to be really glad that they made that decision,’ Hamlin said. ‘They’re really pumped. I’m sure my brothers will be. We’ve grown up watching the Olympics and we’re always like, ‘Who’s going to be carrying the flag?’ And to actually be that person is insane.’
Hamlin’s teammates were thrilled by the news, both because of what it will mean for her and what it means for the niche sport of luge.
‘I was so happy for her,’ U.S. doubles Olympian Jayson Terdiman said. ‘It’s one of the coolest things. I tell you what, I can’t wait. I couldn’t wait before, but now I can’t wait even more. Not just does Erin get to hold that flag, but USA Luge gets to hold that flag. It’s so cool. It’s a great honor for our small sport.’
She is a four-time Olympian, a winner of a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games, a two-time world champion and a winner of 23 World Cup medals
Hamlin is retiring at the end of these Olympics, after nearly two decades of racing competitively
Davis was certainly a worthy candidate. He’s now a five-time Olympian, with two gold medals and two silver medals in his collection. It could not be determined if Davis posted the tweet himself, or if anyone else with access to his account may have.
Davis’ mother, Cherie Davis, said she was unaware of the tweet until an AP reporter spoke to her by phone.
‘I know something about a coin toss, he told me last night,’ she said Thursday. ‘I don’t know anything else. Is that all?’
Hamlin is a four-time Olympian, a winner of a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games, a two-time world champion and a winner of 23 World Cup medals. Despite that resume, Hamlin – who is retiring after the Olympics – never thought she would be the pick.
In December, when asked in an interview with The Associated Press if she thought it would be possible, Hamlin giggled.
‘To me, that always seems to be a really, really big-name person,’ Hamlin said at the time.
Hamlin learned of the voting result Wednesday night. She got a text from Alan Ashley, the chef de mission for Team USA, requesting her to call back as soon as she could. Hamlin braced herself for some sort of bad news as she dialed his number.
‘He told me and I was like, ‘Wait, officially?” Hamlin said, still in disbelief.
Hamlin and Davis were among eight nominees for the flagbearer role, and athletes from each of the eight winter sports federations – bobsled and skeleton, ski and snowboarding, figure skating, curling, biathlon, hockey, speedskating and luge – represented those nominees in a balloting
Shani Davis competes in the men’s 1,500 meters during the U.S. Olympic long track speed skating trials, in Milwaukee on January 6
She then called her family, who were about to start their long flight to South Korea. Her mother started crying, which was no surprise. Her brother offered this sage piece of advice – don’t drop the flag.
‘The nerves will be flying for sure,’ Hamlin said. ‘I slide. That’s what I do. Put me at the top of the track, that’s my happy place. Walking out in front of a lot of people and even more watching from home, hoping to not trip over my own feet or drop the flag is going to be way more nerve-wracking.’
It’s not the first time Davis has been part of an Olympic controversy.
In 2006, Davis – the first African-American to win an individual gold medal at a Winter Games – decided not to take part in the team pursuit at the Turin Games and raised the ire of teammate Chad Hedrick. Their animosity toward one another was obvious at a news conference, when Hedrick brought up the team pursuit and Davis stormed out of the room.