By Chris Chase
Shani Davis, the churlish speed skating star who’s no stranger to Olympic controversy, blasted Team USA team on Thursday after he lost a coin flip to determine the flag-bearer for Friday’s Opening Ceremony of the Winter Games. Erin Hamlin, who in 2014 became the first American woman to ever medal in luge, won the honor to lead the U.S. delegation into Pyeongchang.
On Friday morning, Martin Rogers of USA TODAY Sports reported that Davis is not expected to walk in the Opening Ceremony.
The 35-year-old, who’s won four Olympic medals and was the first black athlete to ever win gold in an individual event, insinuated that his credentials should have given him the honor of carrying the American flag.
His #BlackHistoryMonth2018 hashtag carried other implications.
Hamlin, who is white, was among eight American athletes nominated as flag-bearer – one from each federation. After multiple rounds of voting, the final tally ended 4-4, whereupon a coin was flipped to decide the outcome. The tiebreaking procedure had been decided upon last year. No one found it dishonorable at the time.
With his tweet and reported boycott, Davis hasn’t just ruined whatever goodwill he’d regained after the early controversies of his youth, but he stepped on Hamlin’s moment and that of every other American athlete marching on Friday night. It’s a selfish move.
The Opening Ceremony is an equalizer. Everybody is the same. Lindsey Vonn marches alongside alternate curlers. LeBron James and Michael Phelps wear the same ridiculous, patriotic outfits as every other American athlete. For the vast majority of competitors who won’t medal in Pyeongchang, the Opening Ceremony is their moment in the spotlight. It’s when they get to bask in the achievement of their lifelong dream without the pressures of competition. Davis has been there before. Others haven’t. One grown man throwing a temper tantrum won’t ruin the moment but Hamlin’s moment, in particular, has been tarnished.
Flag bearers aren’t chosen based on their fame or past successes. The last four for the U.S. were Todd Lodwick, Mark Grimmette, Chris Witty and Amy Peterson. No Shaun White. No Bode Miller. No Lindsey Vonn. It’s a popularity contest, which is why the biggest surprise may be how close Davis got to winning the honor.
In the United States, the two-time gold medalist is almost as well known for his off-ice quarrels as he is for his speed skating success. (He’s a huge star in Europe, where the sport is far more popular.) In the 2006 Olympics, Davis got into a spat with American teammate Chad Hedrick, who’d said he’d been “betrayed” after Davis refused to compete in the team-pursuit race. Hedrick thought his teammate had cost him another chance at gold. Davis also made headlines in 2009 when he called Stephen Colbert a “jerk,” after the late-night host raised money for the U.S. speed skating team. The skater was apparently angry over Colbert’s past jokes about Canadians.
Though Davis came out looking bad in both those incidents, you could have made the argument that he’d gotten a bad rap. The Hedrick dispute was completely unfair: Davis had never planned on competing in the relay and was unaware he was even allowed to do so. He had been churlish in his NBC interview after winning gold and acted like a petulant child in a joint presser conference with Hedrick (who didn’t behave any better), but Davis had a point.
He has none here. Shani Davis disgraced himself and his teammates by making the start of the Olympics all about Shani Davis. If he doesn’t walk in the Opening Ceremony, good riddance.
The coin made the right choice.