U.S. Olympic speed skater Shani Davis has criticized the U.S. Olympic Committee for holding a coin toss to break a tie between him and a fellow Olympian to decide who would be the American standard-bearer during the Winter Games’ opening ceremony. Davis’ comment implied that he believed there was a racial aspect to the decision.
Both Davis and U.S. Olympic luger Erin Hamlin were nominees to carry the U.S. flag into the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A vote by the eight U.S. winter sports federations left the two candidates in a stalemate of four-to-four. The USOC used the predetermined process of flipping a coin to decide the winner. Fortune selected Hamlin, The Associated Press reported.
On Feb. 8, Davis took to social media to slam the decision. Davis, who is African American, used a hashtag that implied there was a racist connotation to the USOC process.
“I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event,” Davis tweeted out. “[USOC] dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018. #PyeongChang2018.”
Davis’ tweet ignited controversy. The 35-year-old speed skater is a five-time Olympian and a two-time gold medalist who became the first black athlete in the world to win the coveted medal at a Winter Olympics. Hamlin, who is white, is a four-time Olympian who won the bronze medal during the 2014 Sochi Games.
Many perceived Davis’ tweet as an accusation of racism against the USOC, with several accusing the gold medalist of being a sore loser.
“Shani, you are a great athlete, and I’ll be cheering you on, but would you consider the coin flip dishonorable had you won?” tweeted one reader.
Another observer took Davis’ side, asserting that the USOC should have deferred to his record when deciding on a tiebreaker: “Erin has 4 Olympics, Shani Davis has 5. Erin was first US woman to medal in luge. He was first AA man to medal period. Erin has a bronze. He has two golds and two silvers. How is he not supposed to be offended?”
Cherie Davis, the speed skater’s mother, signaled that she was unaware that there was a controversy when contacted by reporters for comment.
“I know something about a coin toss, he told me last night,” Cherie said. “I don’t know anything else. Is that all?”
Meanwhile, Hamlin has not responded to the controversy surrounding Shani Davis’ tweet but did express jubilation that she would carry the American flag during the opening ceremony.
“We’ve grown up watching the Olympics and we’re always like: ‘Who’s going to be carrying the flag?'” Hamlin said. “And to actually be that person is insane.”
Fellow U.S. Olympic luger Jayson Terdiman said that his federation was thrilled by Hamlin’s selection.
“Not just does Erin get to hold that flag, but USA Luge gets to hold that flag,” Terdiman said. “It’s so cool. It’s a great honor for our small sport.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Olympic speed skater Emery Lehman signaled that Davis enjoys a strong reputation within his federation.
“He looks after the younger people like me and gives great advice,” Lehman said. “He’s not selfish at all. He’ll go out of his way to help you out and having someone like him there is really good for the team.”
On Feb. 9, Hamlin carried the American flag into the Winter Games’ opening ceremony. Both Davis and U.S. Olympic suburban skater Brian Hansen were not in attendance, NBC 5 reported.
U.S. speedskating officials told reporters that Davis had originally planned not to attend the ceremony because it would conflict with his training program. They clarified that Davis had considered making an exception when he was a candidate to be the standard-bearer but that he reverted to his initial plan after the honor went to Hamlin.
Sources: AP via The Washington Post, AP via Yahoo News, Grant Davis/Twitter, NBC 5, Shani Davis/Twitter / Featured Image: Sasha Krotov/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Shani Davis/Twitter, Erin Hamlin/Instagram