As I was digging out my car that was buried under 2 feet of snow after operating a TV camera, in between taking calls for church and school closings during February's Snowmegeddon, the first blizzard of 2010, I found it ironic that the one place where the people actually wanted and needed the snow had weather that was quite balmy.
Anyone who knows me knows that two years ago I fell in love with Cullen Jones, the African-American swimmer who became an Olympic gold medalist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. What was interesting was that Jones had only been the third black man to make the U.S. Olympic swimming team and only the second to win a gold medal in swimming.
This was of course used as a way of bashing the stereotype that black people can't swim. It's a stereotype that's actually supported with facts gathered by the national organization known as USA Swimming. According to an Associated Press article, USA Swimming finds that a very high percentage of black people either can't or don't swim.
Going by empirical evidence when it comes to any ice sports, a similar stereotype can be applied to the Vancouver Olympics. Black people can't skate? Of course, with the comment that black people can't swim or black people can't skate, what I or people who say this truly mean is that there is a dearth of black people in those respective areas, not because of a lack of ability, but sometimes just no access, and no access due to a variety of reasons, the majority of which are not racial.
In 2006, Bryant Gumbel, the host of HBO's Real Sports, spoke to this when he said, "So try not to laugh when someone says these [the Winter Olympians] are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention." As controversial as this statement was, the paucity of blacks at Torino, when Gumbel made that statement, and at Vancouver in 2010, is true.
The Booker Rising blog, in its "Black Ice Series," could only spotlight 22 out of the 2600 athletes in Vancouver as being Black in ethnicity or in relation. That's less than one percent of the participants. Gumbel was also quoted as saying that he won't watch the Olympics. Therefore, I may be in an even smaller minority of blacks who actually did watch this year's Vancouver Games. Why? Despite the paucity, I was eager to see and root for that less than one percent.
During the opening ceremonies on Feb. 12, I was pumped. Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie produced "We Are the World 25 for Haiti," a collection of famous singers, most of whom were black. Counting the chorus, there were probably 50 to 70 black singers in the bunch. No doubt, it was the largest collection of black people that you were bound to see in connection to the Vancouver Games.
That, of course, quickly dissipated as the Olympics got underway. Yes, like black ice, there were people at the 2010 Olympics that you just didn't see, or see much. Yes, if you blinked, you probably missed them. Just before the opening ceremonies, NBC introduced the athletes, in somewhat of a narrated montage, and even though he was unnamed, Shani Davis did appear in that montage.
Now, Davis is part of that less than 1 percent. He's the speed skater from Chicago who became the first black person to win a gold medal in an individual winter game, as well as the fifth black person to become a medalist at the Winter Olympics. In terms of athletes spotlighted throughout the games, one would think that Shani Davis was the only black Winter Olympian in Vancouver.
It's not surprising, however. Of all the black athletes at this year's games, Davis is the one who's broken the most records and has the most medals. In 2004, Davis was even the inspiration for Frozone, the ice-skating, superhero in the animated film The Incredibles. He won gold this year in the 1000m race. He nabbed the silver in the 1500m.
The other, black, winter athletes are all very talented, but certainly got lost in the shuffle. I'd like to take some time to point them out now. Besides Shani Davis, there's one other, black speed skater. She's the 23-year-old female skater from Quebec named Kalyna Roberge.
Nkeiruka Ezekh, the 27-year-old, black Russian female, lost more games this year in Curling that I'm sure she would have liked, but I'm happy to mention her name. Yannick Bonheur and Vanessa James were the first, black pair of figure skaters. The French duo ranked 14 in the free skate program. I do appreciate that pair figure skating is probably the only international sport that allows men and women to compete together and against one another.
You won't find that in baseball. Yet, I wonder if the Olympics are too homophobic to allow two men or two women to skate together as a pair. Yet, when it comes to black, figure skaters, Robin Szolkowy is happy with his bronze medal for Germany. Szolkowy is of Tanzanian-descent, and even though I realize there is a lot of athleticism involved that I will never have, I still don't understand how figure skating is a sport at all. It looks like nothing more than dancing on frozen water.
Yes, it's constant movement. Yes, it requires lifts, spins, great balance and coordination, but it's really just a form of ballet. I like ballet, but I'm more into hip-hop, tap and jazz. I figure if Evan Lysacek can be a gold medal, Olympic champion, so can Savion Glover. It's not like Shiva Keshavan Kannan Palan, the first and fastest man from India when it comes to luge, who can measure his performance in milliseconds. Lysacek is judged on a subjective scale.
Team sports aren't like that. There's no scale. There are only points you score, and you're more likely to find black athletes scoring either on a football field or on a basketball court, not an ice hockey rink. Yet, Johnny Oduya is the 28-year-old, aggressive, NHL defenseman who was recently traded to the Atlanta Thrashers. He was born in Sweden and played for its hockey team, but his mother is from Kenya.
There's also Jarome Iginla. Unlike Oduya who has never been, this is Iginla's third visit to the Winter Olympics. The 31-year-old Canadian is captain of the Calgary Flames, only the second black captain in NHL history. Iginla helped Canada win gold in 2002 beating the U.S. This year, Iginla did the same and made the pass in overtime, which led to Canada winning the gold against the U.S. again.
However, of all the black, Winter Olympians, the most unlikely has got to be Robel Teklemariam, the Nordic, cross-country skier. The 34-year-old is from Ethiopia and his native language is Amharic, which reportedly has no word for "snow." There are mountains with alpine climates, but nobody really lives there. Non-surprising, he is that country's only 2010 representative. He says he was inspired by Abebe Bikila, the first, black African to win a gold medal during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome for Marathon running.
Like with Teklemariam, Leyti Seck, the 29-year-old from Germany who just celebrated his birthday, was Senegal's only 2010 representative in Vancouver. Seck is an alpine skier who finished 73rd in his second run of the Giant Slalom, which is skiing downhill really fast between poles.
Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong is the 34-year-old from the small nation in West Africa called Ghana. Nkrumah-Acheampong is the first Ghanaian ever to attend the Winter Olympics. Like Ethiopia, it doesn't snow in Ghana, but Nkrumah-Acheampong is nicknamed "the snow leopard." He worked as a receptionist at a skiing centre in England where he caught the bug for Slalom. While the Ghanaian got to participate, he didn't compete for any medals.
And, in a case where movies influence life, Errol Kerr, the 23-year-old from northern California, competed in the Men's Ski-Cross for Jamaica. Kerr's uncle is Doug E. Doug, the actor and comedian who starred in Cool Runnings (1993), which was about a Jamaican, Olympic bobsled team. Inspired by his uncle, Kerr ranked nine in freestyle skiing and carried his country's flag during the opening ceremonies in Vancouver.
The majority of the black winter Olympians were concentrated in the bobsled field. There were eight, black bobsledders racing for Olympic medals. Elana Meyers won the bronze for the U.S in the Women's event. Meyers was just over a second behind Shelly-Ann Brown who won the silver for Canada in that same race. Nicola Minichello, the 30-year-old from Great Britain ranked out.
Meanwhile, 27-year-old, Richard Adjei won the silver medal for Germany in the Two-Man Bobsled. 35-year-old, Lascelles Brown was born in Jamaica and won the bronze for Canada in the Four-Man event. He won the silver medal in 2006, the first Jamaican to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.
Twenty-nine-year-old Neville Wright, also playing for Canada, is son to Jamaican-born parents. He ranked out in the Four-Man Bobsled. Bill Schuffenhauer from Utah is the first Puerto Rican to win an Olympic medal. Playing for England, Henry Nwume is a 33-year-old brakeman from Zambia who became interested in bobsledding while an army doctor in Afghanistan. 33-year-old Chuck Berkeley used to be a real estate agent and at six-foot-inches was the tallest U.S. Olympian this year. Timothy Beck from the Netherlands returned this year after competing in the Salt Lake City Olympics. All four of the latter men also ranked out in the Four-Man Bobsled event.
Not that skin color counts inside of a bobsled! What does count is apparently girth! Steve Holcomb, for example, is the gold-winning, American bobsledder and he is certainly no Johnny Weir. The man is quite round, and if he tried figure skating, he might just crack the ice. Holcomb is a bear. You can tell from the entire low angle, butt shots that NBC gave him getting in and out of his sled. Holcomb is Caucasian, but like I said, it's not his skin, it's his size that's salient.
Holcomb's wide derriere wouldn't help him, if he were trying to do a triple axel or outrun a small, svelte, Korean speed skater like Sung Si-Bak. No, for ice-skating, it's preferable to be near skeletal. Not a problem for Apolo Anton Ohno, the other pop star on ice! This year, Ohno became the most decorated, U.S. Winter Olympian. Ohno won his seventh gold medal, the bronze in the 1000m short track race. Dubbed Apolo 7, Ohno is of Japanese heritage.
But, regardless of where any of them come from, congratulations to Canada for its record number of gold medals and big congratulations to the United States for its winning of 37 medals overall. Next up is the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.