Black American athletes competing at Winter Olympics
Eight of the 11 U.S. men and women are first-time qualifiers
The 2018 Winter Olympics begin Feb. 9, and with it begins a new chapter for black athletes competing for Team USA. Of the 11 black athletes chosen to represent the United States in Pyeongchang, South Korea, eight are first-time qualifiers, including Maame Biney, who finished first in short-track speedskating in December to qualify at age 17.
African-Americans and first-generation Africans have a scarce yet rich history of competing at the Winter Olympics, from figure skater Debi Thomas to bobsled athlete Vonetta Flowers. The 2018 Team USA roster is loaded with exceptional talent in three of the more popular sports: bobsled, hockey and speedskating.
Here are the 11 black men and women selected for Team USA (and a few athletes from African and Caribbean nations):
Name: Hakeem Abdul-Saboor
Abdul-Saboor is a former college football running back who took up bobsledding after a video of him jumping up and touching a ceiling with his head caught the attention of a Team USA strength and conditioning coach. This will be Abdul-Saboor’s first Winter Olympics.
Name: Aja Evans
Evans is now a two-time Olympian, placing third alongside pilot Jamie Greubel Poser in the two-woman bobsled at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Like many bobsled athletes, Evans was originally a star in another sport: track and field. She was a three-time Big Ten champion shot putter at Illinois.
Name: Lauren Gibbs
Ahead of the 2014-15 season, Gibbs, a Brown University alum, left her job as a sales manager to serve as the brakeman to pilot Elana Meyers Taylor. Gibbs, competing in her first Winter Olympics, is best known for being able to squat 375 pounds and deadlift 425 pounds.
Name: Chris Kinney
Kinney is a three-time Big East champion hurdler from Georgetown who switched over to becoming a push athlete in 2014. The grandson of a woman of Japanese descent, Kinney worked in Tsukuba, Japan, for more than three years before moving back to the United States to take up bobsled, where he placed first in the two-man event at the 2017-18 North American Cup.
Name: Elana Meyers Taylor
Meyers Taylor, competing in her third Winter Olympics (she placed second in Sochi and third at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver), is a pioneer of the sport. She was the first American woman to win a world championship and the first woman to drive a four-man bobsled with three men, and she’s credited with helping diversify the sport.
Name: Briauna Jones (alternate)
Jones is a former jumper and sprinter for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte track and field team. She took up bobsled after the 2016 Summer Olympics and months later was named to the U.S. women’s national team for the 2016-17 season. She was named as a replacement athlete for the women’s bobsled team earlier this month.
Name: Jordan Greenway
Greenway, a forward on the Boston University hockey team, was selected for Team USA last month, making him one of four collegians named to the team (the NHL wouldn’t allow its players to compete in 2018) and the first African-American to play for the United States. Greenway is also a 2015 second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild.
Name: Shani Davis
Davis, a five-time Olympian, was, in 2006, the first black athlete from any country to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics, taking gold in the men’s 1,000 meters. Since then, the long-track speedskater has won three additional medals (one gold, two silver) and, during the 2016-17 season, became the all-time leader in World Cup points.
Name: Erin Jackson
Jackson, a longtime inline skater, transitioned to speedskating full time in September and placed third in the women’s 500 meters at the U.S. trials four months later. Her selection for Team USA makes Jackson the first black woman to qualify in long-track speedskating for the United States and the second woman (Maame Biney, below) on either speedskating team.
Name: Maame Biney
A Washington, D.C., resident of Ghanaian descent, Biney shocked the world in December when she came out of nowhere to easily win the women’s 500 meters in short track at the U.S. trials. Almost a month before Jackson, Biney became the first black woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team.
Name: Kimani Griffin
Griffin — who, as a teenager, performed on guitar at Carnegie Hall — is a first-time Olympian after placing third in the men’s 500 meters at the U.S. trials. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native has placed first in the 500 and 1,000 meters in four American Cup Finals.
Names: Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, Akuoma Omeoga
This trio became the first team from an African nation to qualify in the bobsled event at the Winter Olympics.
Names: Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, Carrie Russell, Audra Segree
Thirty years after the four-man bobsled team first competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, which was subsequently dramatized in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, Jamaica will send a two-woman bobsled team, the first female team to qualify in the Caribbean country’s history.
Name: Anthony Watson
Watson, a former bobsled athlete, will become the first Jamaican to compete in skeleton.
Name: Shannon-Ogbani Abeda
Sport: Alpine skiing
The son of Eritrean immigrants, Abeda will ditch the Canadian flag (he was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta) to become Eritrea’s first Winter Olympian.
Name: Sabrina Wanjiku Simader
Sport: Alpine skiing
Simader, 19, whose parents are of Kenyan and Austrian descent, will become the second Kenyan to compete at the Winter Olympics and the first in Alpine skiing.
Name: Akwasi Frimpong
Frimpong, who moved from Ghana to the Netherlands when he was 8 years old, is a former sprinter for the Utah Valley University track and field team. He will become the first Ghanaian to compete in skeleton at the Winter Olympics.