Olympics winners and losers: NBC, Tara and Johnny, Shani Davis and more

Olympics winners and losers: NBC, Tara and Johnny, Shani Davis and more
Trump has a tweet for everything, but none yet for Olympics
nPYEONGCHANG, South Korea — To say the Winter Olympics are not racially diverse is like noting the weather in Pyeongchang is cold. This is not surprising.

The Winter Games have deep Scandinavian roots, and draw athletes from the colder, predominantly white — and often wealthy — regions of the United States, Germany and Austria.

The good news is that the economic and political environments have recovered enough to get Western countries interested in hosting the Olympics again. If the site selection process before the financial crisis was fraught with corruption and sticking unprepared cities with expensive boondoggles — think the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio — then perhaps this new era represents a more prudent, thoughtful environment of putting Olympics in countries with stable political climates that are wealthy enough to handle the responsibility. Paris, chosen to host the 2024 Summer Games, and Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Games, are both global cities that have hosted the Olympics before. While it's still early in the bidding process for the 2026 Winter Games, expect rationality to prevail there as well.

Trump has a tweet for everything, but none yet for Olympics

But looking across social media as the Games pick up, some of the biggest stars have been an unexpectedly diverse group.

A behind-the-scenes look at the world of Olympic Broadcasting

With viral videos, trending topics and plenty of GIFs, the internet has crowned some of the early fan favorites as the American speedskater Maame Biney, the Jamaican women’s bobsled team and, adding to momentum they built up long before the opening ceremony Friday, the Nigerian women’s bobsled team (not to mention the shirtless Tongan competing improbably as a cross-country skier after flaming out in taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics).

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They are not necessarily medal contenders, nor underdogs. And their outsize presence on social media belies the reality on the ground here of an overwhelming white population of athletes.

Then there's 2022: the Olympics that nobody wanted. The bid process began in 2013 at a time when economies had stabilized, but it still didn't feel like a robust expansion in many countries. Governments had yet to emerge from a cycle of austerity. By late 2014, only two bids remained to host the 2022 games — Almaty, Kazahkstan, and Beijing, China. When your choices are China or a country with an economy smaller than Iraq's or Algeria's, you pick China.

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The undeniable advantage in the Winter Games has long gone to nations with the strongest national governing bodies, which are the biggest financing system for athletes in training.

Hey! Sam Manchester here, deputy sports editor. Let me be your personal guide to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

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The Jamaican bobsled athlete Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian knows that advantage firsthand. A New Jersey native, she was recruited by the United States to bobsledding as a 22-year-old and competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Yet Fenlator-Victorian, a dual citizen of the United States and Jamaica, decided to represent Jamaica in the Pyeongchang Games.

“It’s important to me that little girls and boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin-included in different things in this world,” she said, fighting back tears.

The IOC President, Thomas Bach, today visited the International Broadcasting Centre at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. He met with official Olympic broadcast partners, as well as representatives from Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the host broadcaster responsible for providing the broadcast operations and coverage at each Olympic Games.

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“It’s important to me that little girls and boys see someone that looks like them, talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin-included in different things in this world” Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian #PyeongChang2018 pic.twitter.com/9vfJ0FK1wL

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“When you grow up and you don’t see that, you feel that you can’t do it and that is not right,” she said. “So coming back home to Jamaica, I wanted my Jamaican people to see that they can do it … if they want to be a winter Olympian and do Alpine ski, now they see their fellow Jamaican in the Winter Olympics.”

Soohorang’s name, in fact, is a mashup of the Korean word for protection, soohoo, while rang comes from the word for tiger, ho-rang-i. Olympic organizers say that the mascot’s name is paying homage to a folk song “Jeong-seon A-ri-rang,” which comes from the Gangwon province where the games are being held.

Nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries are competing in the Pyeongchang Olympics. Six of those nations — Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore — are competing in the Winter Olympics for the first time.

Unlike the much larger Summer Olympics, where medals are awarded at each competition venue, the Winter Games are small enough to have nightly medal ceremonies. But it would be awkward to simply close up shop after gold, silver and bronze has been won, so there’s a ceremony at the venue to recognize the winners.
Trump has a tweet for everything, but none yet for Olympics
Trump has a tweet for everything, but none yet for Olympics

Asia has also become a major force in the Olympics movement as the host for the next two Games after Pyeongchang. The next Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo in 2020, and the next Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing in 2022.

For its part, the United States Olympic Committee said that its team is the most diverse it has fielded at a Winter Olympics.

“The soohorang is very cute and very pretty,” said Sung Baik You, a spokesman for the Pyeongchang organizing committee. “The athletes who have received the soohorang have been very happy with it.”

Of the 243 athletes, 10 are African-American and 10 are Asian-American. The U.S.O.C. does not release data on other racial and ethnic groups because the national governing bodies for individual sports collect and report the data and have done so inconsistently (the sports ask but do not require athletes to report their racial and ethnic identities).

A behind-the-scenes look at the world of Olympic Broadcasting
A behind-the-scenes look at the world of Olympic Broadcasting

Jason Thompson, the director of diversity and inclusion at the committee, said progress has been made in fielding a more diverse team, but that more needs to be done to recruit athletes across racial and ethnic groups.

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“I think we’re not where we want to be,” he said, “but it’s a huge jump to show that winter sports are for everybody.”

Despite a recent survey showing low Swiss support for hosting the 2026 winter Olympic Games, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has expressed confidence in the bid. He was speaking on Monday from this year’s event in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The sports that have seen the biggest increase in racial diversity are those drawing so-called crossover athletes — those talented in one sport who adapt to a new one.

“The debate is just beginning”, the IOC head told Swiss Public Television RTS, just one day after an opinion poll published in the Swiss media revealed that only 36% of respondents supported the so-called Sion 2026 campaign for the southern Swiss canton of Valais.

“Sometimes it’s just that they haven’t been introduced to the sport,” Thompson said. Many bobsled athletes, for example, are former elite track sprinters.

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This year’s delegation includes Erin Jackson, the first African-American woman to qualify for the United States long-track speedskating team, and Jordan Greenway, the first black hockey player on the men’s team.

She was born in Ghana and moved to the United States at the age of 5. She learned how to skate soon after, but her coach told her father she was too fast for figure skating. So she enrolled in speedskating.

But at least athletes and spectators can take comfort in hearty Korean dishes designed to keep the body warm, even in sub-zero temperatures. Restaurants serve piping hot bowls of Korean “hangover” soup, a savory beef bone broth that’s simmered for hours. Street vendors sell fresh-off-the-grill pancakes with a sugary filling (half the satisfaction comes from seeing your hot breath after you take a bite), and fried shrimp.

“I think it hit, I think it finally hit,” Biney said at the opening ceremony. “I’m actually here at the Olympic Games. Holy cow. It’s awesome.”

On Jan. 3, Biney tweeted her thanks to “the real MVP,” Shani Davis, who is competing in his fifth Olympics. In 2006, at the Turin Olympics, Davis became the first African-American to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Games.

Watch our video to see other Korean dishes on offer in and around the Olympics.

In her Twitter post, Biney said of Davis: “You’ve inspired me and paved the way as the first African-American speed skater to make an Olympic team.”

Davis has been in conflict with the U.S.O.C. after it used a coin flip to decide which athlete out of two finalists would carry the American flag in the opening ceremony.

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The committee, he said in a Twitter post last week, “dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer.”

“No problem,” he added. “I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018”

Davis has not commented since, and has made his Twitter account private, leaving others to interpret what he meant by the Black History Month reference.

If Biney is feeling the pressure of paving the way for the next generation of African-American women entering the sport, she is taking it with stride. She was full of laughter on Saturday shortly after securing her spot in the final 16 in the 500 meters. “I’m just ready to get out there on Tuesday and let it rip,” she said.

Thirteen athletes from eight African nations will be competing in South Korea, the largest representation of athletes from African nations in any Winter Games. There has yet to be a Winter Olympics medal awarded to any athlete representing an African nation.

The Nigerian bobsled team has high, perhaps sky high, expectations to change that.

They make up the first African nation to compete in bobsled at the Olympics, and, win or lose, they said that they hope to make a lasting impression.

Medalists at 2018 Winter Olympics get precious keepsake. And a medal
Medalists at 2018 Winter Olympics get precious keepsake. And a medal

“This could be something that would be really cool, something that we give back, something that people could just be proud of and we could be just kind of low key, get it done, and we could just live in that legacy,” Seun Adigun, the captain and driver of the team, said in Pyeongchang. “Or, people would get really, really excited, and then we’d have to figure out how to manage life that way.”

Just the cost of equipment and travel can quickly overwhelm an athlete reaching for qualification. And for nations without Olympic delegations, much of the work that normally falls on organizing bodies instead falls on the athletes.

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Nigeria had no bobsled federation until the women on the team created one.

Adigun raised a total of $150,000 on GoFundMe, a crowdsourcing website, to help fund her team’s training and gear.

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The team is now featured in Beats by Dre ads and is a part of Team Visa promotions.

They, along with the team from Jamaica, will take their first Olympic run on Feb. 20.

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