The Black & the Gold of Vancouver

By Michael-Louis Ingram, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: February 25, 2010

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (BASN) — As the Winter Games makes its second foray into Canada, there are no “cool runnings” going on in here!

But there have been some cool people and some chilly performances by some amazing athletes over the past two weeks of events.

The last time an Olympics was held in this country, the flavour to savour came to Canada from the island of Jamaica, as their four-man bobsled team became th e folk heroes at Calgary 22 years ago.

After the novelty of the Jamaicans supposedly being out of their element wore off, they worked at becoming more than just a conversation piece, moving up as high as eighth in the world ‘s bobsled rankings over time.

With the J.A.’s Bobsled Boyz unable to qualify, Errol Kerr leapt into the fray; and landed nicely in the snow. Kerr, a Jamaican with New York City roots placed ninth in the men’s ski cross at Whistler as the sole member of his country’s Olympic team.

Evidence that the landscape has truly changed is reflected in this Winter Games. A list of some of the 80 participating countries would make you question what season it really was were it not for the snow: Algeria, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Chile, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Puerto Rico, Senegal & South Africa.

Somewhere in the background, Michael Rose & Black Uhuru are singing, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner- Natty Dreadlocks!”

These brothers and sisters of every color and persuasion attacked the snow and ice at every occasion; and some of them – by their appearance alone – struck gold.

Here are some of the more memorable performances, in the opinion of these eyes:

Pairs Figure Skating: The French team, represented by Vanessa James & Yannick Bonheur provided the first impactful image. As the first Black couple to skate in an Olympic event, James & Bonheur were beautiful on the ice, and while finishing 14th out of 20, their effort provided an interesting subplot as the competition continued.

The German pair of Robin Szolkowy and Aliona Savchenko was in position to steal the gold medal after a brilliant short program. Szolkowy, a Harry Lennix look-alike from Griefswald, took a slight misstep during their long program, causing their combined score to drop them to third place and the bronze medal.

Cross Country Skiing: Mehdi-Selim Khalifi (Algeria) Tucker Murphy (Bermuda) and Robel Teklemariam (Ethiopia) were one man teams for their respective countries; the dreadlocked Teklemariam, a licensed instructor, was very engaging in speaking about how he trained on “roller skis” to prepare for the event.

Slalom/Giant Slalom: Dow Travers (Cayman Islands) Samir Azzimani (Morocco) and Leyti Seck of Senegal competed, but the real star of the show was Ghana’s Kwame-Nkrumah “The Snow Leopard” Acheampong.

Kwame held court everywhere he went in speaking of his passion for skiing, and the fact he only been into the sport for months is another indication of how Black athletes consistently adapt, adjust, compete – and eventually thrive.

Bobsled: Ironically, a video piece celebrating Jamaica’s bobsled stars showed how their influence was felt in Canada years after. Lascelles Brown, brakeman on the 2010 Canada 2 bobsled, was a member of Jamaica’s team in the 1990s before relocating to Canada and becoming a citizen in 2004, while current teammate Neville Wright was a Canadian college track star who was recruited into the bobsled program.

Shelley-Ann Brown, brakewoman on the Canada 2 bobsled, was in line for gold until their fellow Maple Leaf colleagues Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse passed them by. Brown and her teammate Helen Upperton earned a silver medal in a strong 1-2 finish for the home team.

For the U.S., Elana Meyers, brakewoman on the United States 1 sled, continues a legacy started by bold Cold Sista Vonetta Flowers, the first Black woman to ever medal in the event.

Meyers, daughter of ex-Atlanta Falcons back Eddie Meyers, switched seasons and reasons in her training when women’s softball was taken out as an Olympic sport, and transformed into the country’s best at her position.

Speed Skating: Canada’s Kalyna Roberge performed well in the short track events, but America’s electric Shani Davis came through big time with his gold medal effort, elevating Davis to become a two-time champion in the glamour event, the 1000 meter sprint. As with the last Olympics in Turin, Davis was more concerned with winning, and shrugged off opportunities to capitalize off his achievement.

Ice Hockey: Hey, you can’t get around the reality of Canada’s culture. The Maple Leaf could win 50 medals at this Olympics, but if there is no gold for the men’s hockey team, the entire Olympics will be considered a colossal failure.

Playing his ass off to prevent that from happening is alternate team captain and power forward Jarome Iginla. Iginla, whose name means “big tree,” in Yoruba, is the first Black player to score a hat trick (three goals) in an Olympic Games.

With elimination a very real possibility, Iginla and Canada face the mighty Russians at the time of this writing in a quarter-final showdown. As the next Winter Games will be in Russia, the emotional toll a Team Canada loss will inflict on this nation will be monumental – with emphasis on “mental” if they don’t get through to the gold medal game.

Meanwhile, the Swedes want everyone to forget they actually won the previous gold medal in Turin. Smooth skating defenseman Johnny Oduya, who was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Atlanta Thrashers, has been his quietly efficient self; if everyone’s not careful, history will repeat for the Swedish national team.

So the winter wonderland that was supposed to be Vancouver has been made more wonderful with the resplendent array of Black talent that has graced the Olympics from sled to slope and rink to rankings; the next wave of Black gold could well be considerable in Russia come 2014 if we do what we’ve always done: make the best of the worst, and do the most with the least.