The Buzz: The Winter Olympics Is Beginning to Break Barriers

“My” February is off to an amazing start! However, my excitement is not solely credited to it being Black History Month or my great anticipation of the Black Panther movie release next week. The Winter Olympics begin tomorrow, and some of the stories surrounding the events have lifted my spirits.

Tomorrow kicks off the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The participating U.S. Olympians are predominately white—91% of the overall team—while the other 9% is attributed to 10 Asian-American and 11 African-American athletes.  These statistics might seem low, but surprisingly enough, this is an improvement from years past.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has made intentional efforts to promote diversity and inclusion over the past 6 years. Back in 2012, Jason Thompson was appointed the Director of D&I after the USOC president, Scott Blackmun, identified issues around diversity efforts. “We are not going to fix everything overnight, but we are planting the seeds and we have been for some time,” Thompson stated in an interview.  “We are starting to see them grow.”

Growth has taken place for the U.S. Olympic team, and they are definitely “making the numbers count.” History has already been made by two African-American women Olympians. 25-year-old Erin Jackson, is the first African-American woman on the long-track speed skating team, and 18-year-old Maame Biney is the first African-American woman on the short-track speed skating team. These women are breaking barriers for women (and men) who look like them, and for kids that will come behind them. Not only that, but they are shattering norms for everyone watching the Winter Olympics expecting to see a certain kind of person on that speed skating track.

Elana Meyers Taylor, a 2014 Olympic bobsled silver medalist, told USA TODAY Sports, “If there is a child watching and they don’t see anyone that looks like them, it creates a little mental barrier.” In the (near) future, I hope to see an increase of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups breaking all kinds of barriers in the Winters Olympics and the world!

About Keley Smith

Keley Smith is Operating Manager at The Winters Group. Keley’s career interests include educational policy, financial literacy, philanthropy, and minority career development.

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