The 2006 Winter Olympics have been quite bizarre – to say the least.
The opening ceremony featured fake cows on ice. Michelle Kwan withdrew due to injury. Bode Miller, a multi-medal favorite, was disqualified in the Alpine combined event and has been “medal-less” in four events. The USA women’s hockey team blew a two-goal lead to Sweden squashing their chances at gold or silver (since making their Olympic debut at Nagano in 1998, the USA women’s hockey team has always played in the gold medal game).
Like I said, it’s been bizarre to say the least.
However, apart from the “unusual occurrences,” history was made this year in Torino. Not only did Shani Davis become the first African-American to make the U.S. Olympic speed skating team, he also became the first African-American to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics. But like everything in this year’s Olympics, it too was over shadowed by negativity.
After Davis’ victory, teammate Chad Hedrick refused to congratulate Davis on winning the gold medal saying he was only happy that Joey Cheeks, another U.S. speed skater, captured the silver. At one point, Hedrick even questioned whether the 2005 World All-Around Champion was even his teammate and insinuated that Davis failed to represent his country.
“It would have been nice after the 1,000 [meter final] if Chad shook my hand”, said Davis in post-race press conference. Hedrick replied by saying he felt “betrayed” when Shani refused to compete in the USA team event.
Although everyone and their mama would like to believe that this feud has nothing to do with skin color, the bottom line is that it does. It has everything to do with race.
It can’t be just mere coincidence that the first year the USA speed skating features an African-American, is the same year the team is surrounded by controversy. And surely, no one can take Hedrick seriously when he said Davis isn’t a team player.
Since when has the Olympics been about the concept of team aside from hockey, curling and bobsledding? The concept of the Olympics is the individual successes of world-class athletes representing their country. Besides, it’s not like Davis just didn’t want to be a team player. He wanted to spend more time preparing for his signature race, the 1,000 meter.
Now this may seem selfish to small-minded individuals such as Chad Hedrick, but consider the pressure that was placed upon Davis’ shoulders. He wasn’t just representing his country; he was representing an entire race.
Contrary to what Hedrick may think, it was never about Davis trying to sabotage his quest at five gold medals, but rather wanting to perform his best in a race that meant much more than just winning the gold.
Of course we shouldn’t be surprised that Shani Davis’ success has generated so much hullabaloo. After all, since when has the success of the first African-American in anything initially been accepted or congratulated?
Shani Davis should walk away from Torino with his head held high. With a gold and silver medal to his name, Shani’s triumph will surely create an opportunity for more blacks to become involved with speed skating.
Who knows, maybe in 2010 more African-Americans will capture gold at the Winter Olympics. Anything’s possible.
Morgan L. McDaniel is sophomore journalism student from Detroit, Mich. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.