When the U.S. Olympic team enters the arena during the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9, the Black Olympians will not only hold their space among the best athletes the nation has to offer, win or lose they will carry with them the pride of the African American community. 

Historically, African Americans have been under-represented in the winter Olympic games and the trend continues today. The reasons for this lack of Black representation are as speculative as they are numerous: lack of visible role models in the sport, the high cost of equipment, lack of access to trainers and/or less exposure to winter sports, the list goes on.

All of that, however, may be in transition as this Olympic season. Black athletes, though small in number, are expected to give America something to cheer about, aspiring Black athletes something to prepare for, and Black children more winter athletes to admire and opportunities for which they can aspire.

The 2018 U.S. Olympic Team is comprised of 242 athletes that include 135 men and 107 women. Counted among those American athletes this winter are eight who will not only be buoyed by the pride of their country but also the prayers and support of their community.

These athletes will not only compete, many are expected “to shine bright like a diamond” in their respective sports and, in the process, “bring home the gold.” Learn their names, get to know their faces, keep track of their events, and then prepare to cheer them on during the Games. This is who they are:

Bobsled Team

Hakeem Abdul-Saboor

A 30-year-old resident of Powhatan, Virginia, also successfully competes in National Physique Committee (NPC) events as a physique competitor. He is a Rottweiler lover and currently owns one named “Maverick.” Abdul-Saboor is also known for referring to YouTube as his main source of guidance for fixing anything.

Aja Evans

Evans is 29 years old and hails from Chicago, Illinois. Evans earned the USA Bob Sled (USABS) Team  of the Year Award in 2017 with Jamie Greubel Poser. Her favorite foods are sushi, seafood and “Mom’s Thanksgiving dinner.” Evans comes from a very athletic family. Her brother, Fred, is the Vikings’ defensive tackle, her uncle is Gary Matthews, a former hitting coach of the Chicago Cubs, and her cousin is major league baseball player Gary Matthews, Jr. Evans holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from the University of Illinois.

Lauren Gibbs

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1984. One of the first things people notice about Gibbs is her freckles, though she was not born with them—they appeared after she played soccer for the first time at the age of eight. Although Gibbs was originally recruited to Brown University to run track, she wanted to play volleyball instead.

Chris Kinney

Born in Athens, Georgia, in 1988, 29-year-old Kinney has confessed to his love of Pokèmon and admitted he still plays the game. He likes to sing, while working out or competing, and can quote almost every episode of the TV show “Friends,” word for word.

Long Track Speed Skating

Shani Davis

A native of Chicago, Illinois, 35-year-old Shani Davis became the first Black athlete to medal in an individual sport at the Olympic Winter Games, when he won gold in the 100-meter speedskating event at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He won Gold and Silver at the 2010 Winter Games and fell short of the medal stand in 2014. Davis came back strong and qualified for this year’s event 2nd in the 1000m and 3rd in the 1500m.

Erin Jackson

Although this 25-year-old native of Ocala, Florida, began inline skating at the age of ten, she did not start skating on ice until last year. She tried ice for the first time between February and March, and returned full time in September. Jackson said she was inspired by the “inliners” who came before her and also made the transition to ice. She plans to pursue a career in Biomedical Engineering and focus on prosthetics and/or dental materials. Jackson is motivated by the desire to keep improving and reaching higher levels, both physically and mentally.

Short Track Speedskating

Maame Biney

This Reston, Virginia, native turned 18 years old on January 28. She won the women’s 500m at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in December, becoming the first Black woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speedskating team. Biney started speed skating at age six, when she was told she was going too fast to be a figure skater. She loves chemistry, claims she could do chemistry all day, and hopes to become a chemical engineer. She shared if she could have any superpower, she would stop time for as long as she wanted.This Winter Olympic season, don’t tune-out. Instead, tune-in and show your support of these Black athletes, who are already winners based on their accomplishments to date. These young people are not only poised to represent the United States of America in the proud tradition of all previous Olympians, in the process they are continuing to blaze new trails for Black athletes in winter sports.

To learn more about these and all the athletes who are part of Team USA Pyeongchang 2018, visit https://www.teamusa.org/pyeongchang-2018-olympic-winter-games/team-usa/athletes.BylineStephanie Williams, Features WriterStephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. Beyond writing, Williams’ personal interests include stone-carving, drumming and sculpting.