Progressive Pupil’s Top Five Black Winter Olympians So Far

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It’s finally Sochi’s time to shine, as the nations of the world come together to compete in this Russian city for the 2014 XXII Olympic Winter Games. As we all get excited and filled with national pride, watching countries compete on a snowy global stage – we must remember that just because the snow is white, doesn’t mean that the games are too. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at our five favorite Black Winter Olympians of all time. These fierce athletes are extraordinary individuals who have made history, defied odds, and melted away those winter white stereotypes.

SHANI DAVIS  is hoping to take Sochi by storm and make history becoming the first American man to win the same Olympic event at three consecutive Winter Games. If he wins two more medals this year he will also become the most decorated U.S. male long-track speed-skater in Olympic history. Making history is a becoming a habit for Davis. In 2006 he became the first Black athlete to win an individual Winter Olympics gold medal.

VANESSA JAMES & YANNICK BONHEUR made their dynamic debut at the Vancouver games in 2010. Proudly representing France, they made history by becoming the first all-Black team to compete in Olympic pairs skating. “We want to climb the ladder to show that Black skaters can stand on the podium,” Bonheur said in 2010, after the couple unfortunately finished 14th in the competition. Their electrifying performance captivated the world and easily made them a crowd favorite. Sadly, all good things must come to an end and the pair decided to split up only a few months after their historic Olympic debut.

DEBI THOMAS  dreamed of becoming a figure skater and a doctor when she was a girl. Not only did she make both of her dreams come true, but she paved the way for future Black winter athletes by becoming the first African-American medalist. At the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic games she skated her way to the podium and took home the bronze becoming the first and only African American to hold both titles in ladies’ singles figure skating, in addition to becoming the first Black winter athlete to win an Olympic medal. In the pursuit of becoming a champion figure skater, Thomas remained deeply committed to her educational goals while extensively training and competing on the ice. Four years after she made Olympic history, Thomas graduated in 1991 from Stanford University and then went on to fulfill her second dream by attending Northwestern University Medical School. Today, Dr. Debi Thomas serves on the advisory boards of the U.S. Olympic Sports Medicine Committee and the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.

ROBEL TEKLEMARIAM became the first Ethiopian athlete to compete at the Turin Olympic Winter Games in 2006. Moving to the United States at an early age, Teklemariam grew up near Lake Placid, New York and fell in love with skiing.  This cross-country skier was so determined to compete and proudly represent his country that he even set up a national skiing federation to get the sport recognized for Ethiopia. Believing that a country that is known for its impressive athletic achievements on the track, could also find Olympic success on the slopes.

THE JAMAICAN BOBSLED TEAM – Dread-locked and driven the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled team –  Devon Harris, Chris Stokes, Dudley Stokes, and Michael White – proudly represented Jamaica and became a worldwide sensation at the Calgary games. Capturing the imagination of fans everywhere, their achievement was truly remarkable considering none of the team had ever walked on ice six months prior to the 1988 games. However, their Olympic debut was filled with triumph and tragedy. With the injury of their original teammate Caswell Allen a week before the games and then tragically crashing during their final Olympic run; the team’s perseverance had won of the hearts and admiration of millions around the world.

by Jami Goodman

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1 Comment

  1. Stacey David

     /  February 20, 2014

    While, I am proud to know that there were and are athletes in the winter games of African descent, I will admit that it gets me excited to see that we are participating. Public schools in NYC should add some of the winter sports into PAL sports they offer, particularly the ice skating whether speed skating or dancing disciplines. Because let’s face it, all of our children won’t be great at basketball, soccer or swimming and maybe this can be their niche. More should be done to integrate the winter sports into public schools in NYC.



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