White athlete with just one medal wins over Shani Davis to carry American flag in Olympics

Shani Davis

By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

Chicago’s Shani Davis, one of America’s most decorated gold medal-champion in the Winter Olympics, lost the opportunity to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies after another athlete with just a bronze medal won the honor on a coin toss, the Crusader has learned. 

America’s first Black speed skater was never told of the results. He learned that he lost after watching the evening news in South Korea, sources told the Crusader.

The move has raised questions about the standards and criteria the USA Team uses in giving the highest honor to an Olympic athlete.

Erin Hamlin

Erin Hamlin, a four-time Olympian luger, will carry the American flag into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea on Friday. She will lead the 243-member American team into the $100 million stadium to kick off the two-week Winter Games.

With two gold medals, two silvers and a groundbreaking career, the honor could have gone to Davis, 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 awarded an honor that would have been a fitting tribute to end his celebrated Olympic career.

Hamlin is a four-time Olympian 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, when she broke a 34-year streak held by German and Austrian women champions. While her historic victory is considered unprecedented, her accomplishments are not as impressive as the gold and silver medals Davis amassed in an illustrious career that spans nearly two decades.

USA team members usually select the athlete they want to be the flag bearer, but sources told the Crusader that there was a tie between Davis and Hamlin. To break the tie, a coin toss was held several days go. Sources told the Crusader that no one contacted Davis to tell him the results. Instead, Davis learned that Hamlin won after watching newscast.

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 had little opportunities to train and excel in winter sports in inner city neighborhoods.

Christy Cahill, Director of Communications for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said in an email late Wednesday, “We don’t publicly share the details of the election, just the process and the result.”

Cahill did say that a coin toss is held in the event of a tie. She also said  “Medals generally don’t factor into this decision.

 Shani would obviously have been a great selection as well, but it is not up to the USOC. And this is Erin’s fourth and final Games.”

Davis however will be competing in his fifth Olympic Winter Games.


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