Diversity breaks out in bobsled competition

U.S. Olympic bobsledders Elana Meyers Taylor, left, and Lauren Gibbs celebrate a silver medal victory at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
U.S. Olympic bobsledders Elana Meyers Taylor, left, and Lauren Gibbs celebrate a silver medal victory at the 2018 Winter Olympics. IBSF / Eugen Eslage

In the most diverse Winter Olympics in history, perhaps no sporting venue in Pyeongchang is more integrated than the bobsled track.

That was evident as four women of color from three countries stood on the medal podium Wednesday night after the women’s two-man bobsled competition.

The U.S. bobsled with Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs captured the silver medal, missing out on gold by 0.07 seconds.

The German bobsled team of pilot Mariama Jamanka and brakeman Lisa Buckwitz won the gold medal. A Canadian sled with Kaillie Humphries and Phylicia George won the bronze medal.

Meyers Taylor, Gibbs, Jamanka and George are black, and their moment together on the winner’s stand wasn’t lost on Meyers Taylor.

"It shows the growth of our sport. The more eyeballs there are on the sport, it will get more diverse," she told reporters after the competition. "I want to represent my color and ethnicity. To be proud of our heritages is really cool. I’m proud of a changing landscape in our sport."

Jamanka Buckwitz GER 1
Lisa Buckwitz, left, and Mariama Jamanka of Germany captured the gold medal in women’s bobsled Wednesday. They beat the United States by 0:07 seconds. IBSF / Eugen Eslage

Women of color led the bobsled pack Wednesday, but they were also at the bottom. Jamaica and Nigeria finished 19th and 20th in the competition.

"The best teacher in bobsled is time, and we did everything that we could in the time that we had," Nigerian bobsledder Seun Adigun said of her country’s first Winter Games appearance. "By God’s grace, you’ll see Nigeria there" at the 2020 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Of all the winter sports, few have experienced the growth in diversity like bobsled.

Three of the four members of the U.S. women’s Olympic team are black. So are two of the 12 members of the men’s bobsled team.

While the Jamaicans and Nigerians garnered most of the media when it came to diversity on the bobsled track, more traditional winter sport nations also had significant minority representation. Great Britain, Brazil and France also have bobsledders of color on their Olympic rosters.

Their presence is a testament to bobsled aggressively recruiting minority athletes from track and field, American football, and other sports.

Meyers Taylor is a convert from college softball. Germany’s Jamanka threw the hammer and discus before jumping in a bobsled.

George ran the 100-meter hurdles for Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"Track is the closest to a microcosm of society that you can find," said Bob Olesen, UNC Charltotte’s track and field coach and a member of the 1998 U.S. Olympic men’s bobsled team. "Those can be successful are finding their way to where they can be successful regardless of preconceived notions."

The bobsled athletes are also responsible for the sport’s inclusiveness. Canadian bobsledder Humphries telephoned George after the Rio Olympics and asked her to consider trying a winter sport.

Meyers Taylor has personally recruited minority athletes for the U.S. bobsled program.

“Every female that we interview on the team says ‘Yeah, she recruited me,’" said Jason Thompson, the United States Olympic Committee’s director for diversity and inclusion. "It just shows what can be done."

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas