By Brian Gilmore

Here's hoping the Sochi Olympic Games mark the continuation of a positive trend for African-American athletes.

Historically, the African-American presence in the Winter Olympics has been a disappointment. If it were a book it could be called "The Invisible Olympian."

But, gradually, that's been changing.

First there was Shani Davis.

While the speed skater will not win any individual medals this Olympics, he is already a two-time Olympic champion. He won gold in Turin in 2006, which was, amazingly, the first time a black American athlete had triumphed in an individual Olympic winter event. He repeated that gold medal performance in Vancouver in 2010.

Even without more individual medals in Sochi, Davis has single-handedly changed the perception of African-Americans as competitive athletes in winter sports.

This year, there is also the women's bobsled team. Five of the six members are African-American, which is also historic. Lolo Jones, Lauryn Williams, Aja Evans, Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator are members of the team.

The history of African-Americans in the Winter Olympics has been sporadic. There were no African-American men on the U.S. team until 1980, if you can believe it. That was the year former Olympic sprinters Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley competed on the U.S. men's bobsledding team in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Davenport, who said at the time he wanted to break the color barrier of the Winter Olympics, had already won a gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

In 1988, Debi Thomas won a bronze medal in women's figure skating, becoming the first African-American to earn an Olympic winter medal.

In 2002, Vonetta Flowers won a gold medal as a member of the women's bobsled team.

The dearth of African-Americans in the Winter Olympics has been the source of frustration over the years. Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO's "Real Sports," famously compared the 2006 Winter Olympics to a GOP Convention because it had so few blacks participating.

But this is changing, and not just here in the United States. Other nations such as France, Great Britain and Canada also have athletes of African descent on their teams.

The Olympic spirit of peace and solidarity blossoms when the field is full of men and women from nations and backgrounds from all over the world.

Let it be even more diverse in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018.

Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer and author of the forthcoming poetry collection "We Didn't Know Any Gangsters" (Cherry Castle Publishing 2014). He can be reached at

Copyright Brian Gilmore

Photo: "Silhouette of running man with torch," via Shutterstock.


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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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