Erin Hamlin has led Team USA out for the start of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after being named as flag carrier ahead of Shani Davis, who boycotted the ceremony.
Hamlin, a four-time Olympian and winner of a luge bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi games, beamed a broad smile as she led out the athletes competing at the games in South Korea to the accompaniment of ‘Gangnam Style’.
The 31-year-old was chosen in a tie-breaking coin toss with speedskater Shani Davis, one of just a few black athletes in Team USA, who says he should have been chosen to carry the Stars and Stripes.
Davis, 35, a five-time Olympian who has won two gold medals and two silver medals, lost after a vote among sports federations represented at the games ended in a draw.
A U.S. speed skating spokesman said Davis had not originally planned to march in the parade of nations later on Friday but would have made an exception if he had been chosen as flag-bearer.
‘Shani won’t march in the parade. It was never part of his plans. He is fully focused on his first race and is concentrating on that,’ the spokesman said.
In an angry tweet, Davis took a shot at Hamlin, the holder of a single bronze medal.
‘I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event,’ Davis wrote on Twitter in the early hours of Thursday.
He then slammed Team USA for ‘dishonorably’ tossing a coin to decide who would have the honor of carrying the flag.
‘No problem. I can wait until 2022,’ he added before using the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018.’
The reaction has not gone down well with fans who dubbed Davis a ‘baby’, ‘spoiled’ and said his reaction was a case of ‘sour grapes’.
He tweeted again today, in what appears to be another a thinly veiled jibe at Team USA who have already faced criticism over the lack of diversity in their 2018 Winter team.
‘It has been such an honor to have represented the greatest, most diverse country in the world at the last five Winter Games during the same month as #blackhistorymonth #goTeamUSA.
‘Watch ‘Origins of Black History Month’.’
The US is not the most diverse country in the world. In fact, it doesn’t even break the top 20, according to Pew Research.
The athlete’s mother Cherie Davis, a controversial figure renowned for her fierce, relentless defense of her son if she believes he is in any way under attack, claimed she wasn’t aware of the furor about the choice of flagbearer until yesterday.
When asked about her son’s angry tweet, she said: ‘I know something about a coin toss, he told me last night.
‘I don’t know anything else. Is that all?’
Davis, a long track speed skater, is set to compete in the men’s 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m. His first event will be the 1,500m on Tuesday.
Hamlin, 31, the first American to medal in luge singles and a winner of 23 World Cup medal, has already announced this will be her last Olympics as she is retiring immediately after these games. Her first event in the women’s luge on Saturday.
In a statement, she said she was ‘honored and excited’ to be named flag-bearer adding ‘this is something totally different’.
‘It’s something that is because of that hard work. People acknowledge that and respect that. It’s a big privilege to represent Team USA.’
The American team has 11 Asian American athletes and 10 black athletes members, a ratio that is far lower than the number of minority athletes the team sends to the Summer Games.
However, the team does have three openly gay athletes competing this year; freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, figure skater Adam Rippon and speed skater Brittany Bowe.
They made history at the Opening Ceremony as the first openly gay athlete marched with Team USA for the first time in the history of the Winter Games.
And it was not just one out-and-proud American who entered the newly constructed stadium in South Korea for the kick-off to the 16-day affair, but three: freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, figure skater Adam Rippon and speed skater Brittany Bowe.
Kenworthy, 26, posted photos of himself and Rippon, 28, sharing a friendly kiss on the cheek at the Opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The pair has been lauded by Hillary Clinton and Tyler Oakley.
However, Mike Pence’s attempts to involve himself in the historic moment didn’t go well when he tweeted at Rippon: ‘I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ’em!’
Pence was responding to an interview Rippon gave last month, blasting the White House for tapping Pence to lead the official US delegation.
‘You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?’ Rippon asked USA Today.
Today, Kenworthy posted a picture of him hugging Rippon at the games, saying he ‘so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community’, along with a nod to the conservative Republican.
‘Eat your heart out, Pence. #TeamUSA #TeamUSGay,’ he wrote, adding, in another post, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!’
Over the past six years, the U.S. Olympic Committee has made concerted efforts to promote diversity among its team members.
In 2012, a committee was formed to improve diversity and Jason Thompson was hired as director of diversity and inclusion.
Hamlin did not address the controversy but told USA Today: ‘Winning a medal is the effort you put in and the time and the work and sacrifice to succeed and achieve something. That’s all on me. That’s something I’ve done.
‘I think they’re going to be really glad that they made that decision.
‘They’re really pumped. I’m sure my brothers will be. We’ve grown up watching the Olympics and we’re always like, ‘Who’s going to be carrying the flag?’ And to actually be that person is insane.’
Hamlin’s teammates were thrilled by the news, both because of what it will mean for her and what it means for the niche sport of luge.
‘I was so happy for her,’ U.S. doubles Olympian Jayson Terdiman said.
‘It’s one of the coolest things. I tell you what, I can’t wait. I couldn’t wait before, but now I can’t wait even more. Not just does Erin get to hold that flag, but USA Luge gets to hold that flag. It’s so cool. It’s a great honor for our small sport.’
Hamlin led the American team at the grand opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympic in Pyeongchang which kicked off on Friday with a spectacular display featuring child performers, huge puppets, dazzling light displays and thousands of dancers in a celebration of Korean unity.
Inside the area, 30,000 people, including a 200-strong North Korean cheerleading squad, watched the display in -3C temperatures and were encouraged to bang drums given to them in an extreme weather kit to keep warm.
As the teams paraded around the stadium their national flags were displayed in the center of the stage, while lights behind each seat lit up with the national colors.
The ceremony was also watched by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, who had earlier shaken hands in a historic meeting.
Sitting alongside them in the world leader’s box was Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and Vice President Mike Pence – sitting just one row apart.
Four Korean singers then took to the stage to perform ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon, who was then backed by a film showing street musicians around the world singing the song. The show, directed by Korean actor Song Seung-whan, uses the South Korean flag – the Taegeukgi – and the traditional janggo drum to represent the harmony of yin and yang.
South Korea’s Royal Marching Band and the Traditional Guard of Honour – both in national dress, wowed the crowd.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in proclaimed the Pyeongchang Olympic Games as a ‘path to peace’ as he opened the Games in a spectacular ceremony. He added that sport had the power to bring ‘reconciliation between East and West’.
He said: ‘I would like to welcome everyone who has joined us here in at Pyeongchang for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The Seoul 1988 Summer Games paved the way for reconciliation between East and West by breaking down the wall of the Cold War.
‘Thirty years after hosting the Summer Games, the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games has commenced with a hope for peace from everyone around the world. It was with an ardent desire that the people of Korea aspired to host the Olympic Winter Games, as the dream and future of Korea, the only divided nation in the world, mirrors the Olympic spirit in its pursuit of peace.
The rival regimes of North and South Korea have put aside decades of enmity to celebrate winter sports in the spirit of ‘peace and friendship’.
The two Korean states remain in a state of war despite the 1953 ceasefire that split the nation into the communist north and the capitalist south. But today athletes from each country entered the stadium together under one flag and are fielding a joint women’s hockey team.
North Korea has sent a total of 22 athletes over the border to compete in five sports, including figure skating, skiing, and speed skating.
In line with President Moon’s ‘peace Olympics’ ambitions, there is reportedly a ‘good chance’ that Ms. Kim will invite President Moon to Pyongyang during a lunch on Saturday, CNN reports.
The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Yo Jong’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell. Three years later the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the two sides technically in a state of war.
Many analysts suggest Yo Jong may be carrying a personal message from her brother to his dovish South Korean counterpart Moon.
Tensions have been high on the peninsula since last year when the North staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-fired multiple long-range missiles, some of them capable of reaching the US mainland.
Leader Kim and US President Donald Trump exchanged threats of war and personal insults, sparking global alarm and fears of another conflict on the peninsula. But Kim abruptly announced a plan to send athletes and high-level delegates to the Pyeongchang Winter Games in his new year speech, setting in motion a flurry of cross-border talks and activities.
The announcement – following months of cajoling by Seoul – is seen as a bid to defuse tensions and try to seek a loosening of the sanctions against it.
Hundreds of athletes, cheerleaders, and artists have already arrived in the South and the North’s state orchestra gave one of two planned concerts in the South on Thursday night to a packed audience.
But the latest rapprochement has met a backlash in the South with many accusing Seoul of making too many concessions to the wayward neighbor that even pushed ahead with a military parade on Thursday in Pyongyang in a showcase of its military might.
Anti-North Korea protesters held demonstrations outside the stadium, tearing up photos of Kim Jong-un and shouting anti-North Korean slogans.
Conservative activists also accused Pyongyang of ‘hijacking’ the South’s Winter Olympics and have held angry protests by burning the images of the leader Kim or the North’s national flag near venues where North Koreans made public appearances.
Pence, who leads the US delegation to the Olympics, renewed a call for ‘maximum pressure’ on the North to force it to abandon its nuclear weapon during a meeting with Moon Thursday.
But he did not rule out a meeting with the North’s delegates during the Games, saying there ‘may be a possibility for any kind of an encounter with North Koreans,’ whether informal or formal.
Pence also sought to concentrate minds by inviting the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died a week after he was released from a North Korean jail in a coma last year, to the opening ceremony as his guest.
Despite a thawing in international relations the event is set to be the coldest Olympic Games on record with day-break temperatures of below minus 20 Celsius at the mountain locations – and a bitter wind sending the chill-factor through the frozen floor.
Organisers have laid on special extreme weather kits – including heat pads, a warm seat cushion, bobble hat and raincoat – but the Korean winter will still seep through.
The crowd fears they will shiver amid flurries of snow swirling around the open-air stadium, as the athletes from the 102 nations, who will compete for medals in 15 different sports, fill the arena.
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