The United States Olympic team’s selection of flag bearer for Friday’s Opening Ceremony sparked controversy on Thursday night, as a tweet from the account of long-track speedskater Shani Davis angrily attacked the method used, even suggesting there could have been a racial element involved.
Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist and five-time Olympian, was picked by U.S. Speedskating as its candidate for flag bearer. However, in a vote among team representatives from each U.S. Winter Games federation, the 35-year-old tied with luge athlete Erin Hamlin. Her bronze at Sochi 2014 was the first medal for an American in singles luge in Olympic history.
A coin toss was then used to break the tie, which Hamlin won.
The tweet included a reference to Black History Month and listed his Olympic accomplishments:
“I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer, No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #Pyeongchang2018.”
Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Winter Olympics when he placed first in the 1,000 meters at Torino in 2006.
U.S. Speedskating communications director Matt Whewell did not comment on Davis’ tweet, but spoke to the skater’s impressive Games track record.
“He was our nominee for a reason,” Whewell told USA TODAY Sports. “He was deserving of that honor.”
The United States Olympic Committee does not exercise control over social media posts made by athletes on the team, and Davis’ message was still on his account more than three hours after its initial posting.
USOC spokesman Mark Jones said of Hamlin’s selection: “It is an athlete-driven process and the selection was made between two great candidates.”
During the selection meeting, each of the eight sporting federations nominated an athlete for consideration to carry the flag into the stadium on Friday. Federations cannot vote for their own nominee in the first round but are permitted to is subsequent rounds. Voting is done by one athlete from each of the governing bodies, and Olympic veteran Jonathan Garcia was the speedskating representative.
After a few rounds, the vote was tied 4-4 between Davis and Hamlin. The USOC’s official procedure, determined last year and communicated to athletes, dictated that a coin flip must be used to break the tie.