Team USA Olympian: I was “dishonorably” denied the privilege of carrying the flag due to a coin toss
Note the “Black History Month” hashtag at the end of his tweet below. Nothing says “Olympic spirit” like suggesting, without any apparent evidence, racial prejudice within your own national team on the eve of the Games opening.
It’s almost impossible to create bad vibes around the spectacle of Old Glory being carried around an Olympic stadium as Team USA walks in. But darned if Shani Davis didn’t do it.
It would indeed be dishonorable if the USOC forced Davis to submit to a coin toss had the rules called for some alternate means of deciding who gets to carry the flag. But they didn’t. Davis knew going in that tying with another Olympian on the vote would require a coin flip.
[Luger Erin] Hamlin and Davis were among eight nominees for the flagbearer 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 a ballot that took place on Wednesday night.
The final vote was deadlocked at 4-4. Hamlin won a coin toss, the predetermined method of picking a winner if all else failed in the athlete-led process. The US Olympic Committee confirmed the tie, and that voters knew if the tie couldn’t be broken by them the coin toss would have to occur.
What he’s objecting to, I assume, is the fact that there was a tie in the first place. None of the news stories I’ve read today have specified criteria for deciding who should carry the flag. If it’s a test of achievement, Davis does have Hamlin beat. He’s competing in his fifth Olympics this year versus her competing in her fourth; he’s won two golds and two silvers at previous Games versus Hamlin never winning higher than bronze. He’s also four years older than she is, although she’s said that this will be her final Games whereas he hasn’t. That fact, that this is her last chance to be flagbearer, may have swayed some votes in her favor. And women have carried the flag for Team USA just six times in 23 Games, the last time in 2006.
Although, if it’s diversity you’re looking at, arguably the case for Davis is stronger. Of the 243 members of Team USA this year, just 10 are African-American. Among those 10 is the man who, in 2006, became the first black athlete to win gold in an individual event at the Winter Olympics. Who’s that? Right: Shani Davis.
But as I say, I don’t know that the flag decision is based on anything more or less than a popularity contest. If Hamlin is well-liked, go figure that she’d get votes. The question is why Davis would let his disappointment eat him up to the point where he’s (a) starting a public controversy over losing a coin flip and (b) framing it in explicitly racial terms, which is serious business. The Chicago Tribune notes that controversy seems to follow him around:
Davis’ beefs have included many, from U.S. Speedskating to comedic talk show host Stephen Colbert, whose show had become the official sponsor of U.S. Speedskating in 2009.
His complaints were sometimes validated. In 2006, he was mischaracterized by fellow U.S. speedskater Chad Hedrick who accused Davis of betrayal for not skating the team pursuit, blaming Davis for costing Hedrick and the U.S. team a gold medal. Later, U.S. coach Tom Cushman apologized for the misconception about Davis’ because the federation hid that Davis was never among the skaters entered for the race.
The Colbert bit is overblown. Davis called Colbert a “jerk” in 2009 for taking tongue-in-cheek potshots at Canada before the 2010 Games, but the rift was healed and Davis ended up participating in a Colbert Olympics skit which he later called “genius.” If, though, he has a reputation for complaining (with this morning’s tweet just the latest exhibit), it might explain why he ended up in a tie with Hamlin on the vote to carry the flag instead of winning. Was it racial, or has he just rubbed too many people the wrong way over the years?
Anyway, look for him at Opening Ceremony tomorrow night as reporters try to corner him and get him to escalate this controversy. Fun!