By Staff Writers Shray Vaidya & Jennifer Xiang
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang doesn’t just showcase athletic prowess; it also features captivating stories of the competing athletes. Here are some significant storylines to follow throughout the Olympic Games.
Lindsey Vonn Speaks Out Against Trump
US Olympic Skier Lindsey Vonn made headlines in early December 2017 for her comments about President Donald Trump in an interview with CNN, where Vonn stated that she would “represent the people of the US, not the president.” Vonn further went on to clarify that she meant Olympic athletes do not represent political figures or their government but rather the nation as a whole. In the week following the interview, Vonn revealed in an Instagram post that she had received massive feedback for her comments, both negative and positive, including some people “hoping I break my neck.” Nevertheless, Vonn has remained resilient and is looking to win a medal at the upcoming games. The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics will be Vonn’s first Olympics since the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Nigerian women’s Bobsled team becomes first African Bobsled team in the Olympics
A team of three Nigerian women make up the first African Bobsled team in the history of the Olympics. Seun Adigun, who ran the 100-meter race at the 2012 Summer Olympics for Nigeria, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga, all former runners and American-born, will compete in the Women’s Bobsled event in Pyeongchang after qualifying. None of the women had any bobsledding experience prior to the creation of the team three years ago, but after a successful GoFundMe campaign, the team acquired the funds for supplies and initially trained in Houston, sans-snow. Despite their relative inexperience with the sport, the team qualified for the Olympics through the completion of five races and by ranking in the top 40 globally. Their success and ambition has garnered the team both social media attention and sponsorships, gaining attention through their unique story.
Shibutani siblings poised to be favorites at Olympics, succeed Meryl Davis & Charlie White
In the wake of three-time US Olympic medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White announcing that they would not be competing at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani have emerged as one of the top Ice Dance duos in the country. The siblings set themselves apart by being forced to look outside of traditional romantic routines for their programs. Alex attributes much of their success to “how close we are and the bond that we have,” as he told Reuters. The Shibutanis won the Skate America Grand Prix event in November 2017 with a new personal best and placed third at the Grand Prix Final in Japan in December 2017 for the second year in a row. The siblings are expected to be the bronze-medal favorites for the upcoming Olympics, as they will be competing against the last two world champions from France and Canada.
Adam Rippon, Gus Kenworthy are the First Openly Gay Men on the US Winter Olympic Team
Men’s Figure Skater Adam Rippon will become the first openly gay man to represent the US in the Winter Olympics, after coming out as gay publicly in 2015. Rippon, 28, previously won gold in the 2016 US Championships and suffered an ankle injury in 2017, which motivated him to work harder and to qualify for the Olympics in the 2017-18 season. Rippon qualified under controversial circumstances, finishing fourth in the national competition. Judges deemed his past international competition record-worthy and qualified him for the Olympics over second-place winner Ross Miner. Rippon, since coming out, has been outspoken about LGBTQ+ issues, saying to USA Today in response to Vice President Mike Pence’s planned leading of the US Olympic delegation, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it.” Rippon will compete in the Men’s single skating competition in the Olympics.
Freestyle Skier Gus Kenworthy was relatively unknown until the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, where he won a silver medal and also garnered media attention for adopting stray dogs in Russia. That changed when he came out as gay in October 2015. He was greeted with support from friends, family, and fans. Kenworthy described it as an “instant relief” to The Washington Post, after having to repeatedly lie when asked questions on whether or not he had a girlfriend since he turned pro. He also talked about how it was extremely difficult for him to hide his sexuality in such a testosterone charged sport, telling ESPN that “In skiing, there’s such an alpha male thing about pulling the hottest chicks.” Now, just over two years later, Kenworthy says that coming out not only landed him massive publicity and sponsorships, but has also helped his performance in both the halfpipe and slopestyle events, according to The Washington Post. After winning the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the Grand Prix in Mammoth Lakes, and medaled in both events at the X Games, Kenworthy is set to win medals in the same events in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
First African-American Woman on US Speed Skating Team Maame Biney
Maame Biney is set to become the first female African-American speed skater and second African-born person to represent the US at the Winter Olympics. Biney, who is 18 years old and was born in Ghana, qualified for the Olympics after finishing first in the 500-meter qualifying race, beating out various former Olympians. The video of the race proceeded to gain more than five million views, garnering attention for the up-and-coming athlete. She started skating at the age of six after immigrating to the US with her father, to whom she credits her success through his emotional and financial support. Biney will be competing in the 500-meter and 1500-meter races in Pyeongchang.
Russia Banned from Olympics for Doping
In December 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) completed its investigation of a Russian state-backed doping scandal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and found the country guilty of “doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympic history,” according to The New York Times. The IOC’s punishment was that Russia would be banned from attending the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with government officials being unable to attend, and the absence of the Russian flag and anthem at the games. The IOC did allow Russian athletes to compete if they could prove a history of rigourous doping testing and pass an exam by an antidoping review panel. Using this loophole, 169 Russian athletes will still compete at the games this year, under a neutral flag, referred to as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” Furthermore, 28 athletes have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (C.A.S.) and gotten their bans lifted, but the IOC has said that “The result of the C.A.S. decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the Games,” according to The New York Times. Olympic officials have also stated that the ban may be removed in time for the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, and that the Russian flag may make a reappearance at the ceremony.
Graphic by Graphics Editors Evangeline Chang & Victor Zhou