Chicago’s Shani Davis is accustomed to overcoming long odds, but the five-time Olympian speedskater failed to win a coin-toss to determine the U.S. Olympic team’s flag-bearer for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
Davis and U.S. luge veteran Erin Hamlin were the favorites to carry the flag for Team USA at Friday’s opening ceremonies, but when a team vote left the two deadlocked, a protocol called for a coin toss to break the tie. The two were informed Wednesday night that Hamlin had won.
Hamlin and Davis were among eight nominees for the flag-bearer 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 balloting that took place Wednesday night.
Eventually, the final vote was deadlocked at 4-4. Hamlin won a coin toss, which was the predetermined method of picking a winner if all else failed in the athlete-led process. The U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed the tie, and that voters knew in the event of a tie, the coin toss would take place.
On Thursday morning, Davis shared his feelings about the methodology in a Tweet, saying Team USA “dishonorably tossed a coin.”
In the tweet, Davis included the hashtag “#BlackHistoryMonth2018,” leading some to believe he was hinting that race was a factor in the decision.
Shani, you're one hell of an athlete and more than qualified to be the flag bearer. It wasn't right to be narrowed to a coin toss. It equally wasn't right to reference black history month reference in your retort. Only a person's accomplishments, not race, should be emphasized.
— TheRealBobBirsinger (@robertbirsinger) February 8, 2018
In the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event after finishing first in the 1000-meters. Davis, 35, has always been keenly aware how he stands out in a predominantly white sport.
Davis said this in 2014:
“I do appreciate how much my success – especially that first gold medal – means to a great many people around the world more because of my skin colour.
“If people view me as a pioneer that way I’ll accept the praise but the real pioneers in my skating life were those that blazed trails in my own sport in Chicago.
“People like my first coach Saunders Hicks and my early role model, Wale Kadiri, who’s family is Nigerian. I remain focused on making speed-skating history, human history, not Black history. When I’m asked my “race”, I always reply: 1000 metres.”
Hamlin, a 31-year-old, four-time Olympian, said her parents are never sure if they want to spend a lot of money to see the opening ceremonies — but they always do. This year will be even more special.
“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.”