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11 Black Women Who Shattered Barriers in Winter Sports

By Erin Key

Listen, we know what you’re thinking. Yet another company here for the obligatory #BlackHistoryMonth post and then back to the regularly scheduled program. But that’s not how things should be done. Black history is living history, 365 days a year — past, present, AND future. Despite the systemic inequalities created by white supremacy that still exist in many facets of society, the Black community has persevered — and our world wouldn’t be where it is without the contributions of the Black community, from the civil rights movement and the space race, to the food we eat and the culture that surrounds us.
We’re looking forward to continuing to luxuriate in unapologetic Black excellence not only this month — but every month and day. It’s on everybody to do more than recognize and appreciate the contributions of the Black community. We have to commit to undoing systemic racism in our everyday lives and help the Black community prosper without barriers. For decades, people have challenged what a “winter athlete” looks like — and the movement is growing. Check out the Black women who shattered those barriers, and are continuing to do so.

Surya Bonaly

The last time we saw a black woman as a serious contender for an Olympic medal in figure skating was 1998 — her name was Surya.

Surya Bonaly's iconic backflip

For Black women, you often have to work twice as hard to get half as far. And Surya DID that. She is the first AND only female figure skater in history who completed an “illegal” and dangerous backflip, her signature move.

Her talent took her to championships around the world. After an outstanding performance at the Ladies’ Free Skate during the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships, she famously removed her medal and retired from skating four years later.

Vonetta Flowers

Flowers carved out her own place in history after transitioning from the world of track and field to bobsledding.

Youtube: Watch Bakken & Flowers Salt Lake 2002

Flowers always had dreams of being an Olympic track & field athlete. But after coming up short at the Olympic trials in 1996 and 2000, a chance encounter had her trading in her spikes for a bobsled.

Alongside Jill Bracken, she snagged a medal in the two-woman bobsled event in 2002, becoming the first African-American to ever win gold at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.

Maame Biney

Maame is only 17 years old and she’s already in the history books.

Youtube: Watch Maame Biney Win the 500-Meter Final

She was born in Ghana and moved to the United States as a five-year-old child, and started learning skating in Reston, Virginia.

Maame’s electrifying short-track speedskating made her one of the first Black women to be on the U.S. Olympic speed skating team in the 2018 Winter Olympics. We’ll see her next (likely snatching wigs and medals) at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Sabrina Simader

Youtube: Watch Sabrina Simader compete in the Winter Olympics.
After Seba Johnson, Sabrina is only the second Black woman to compete in Olympic skiing. Her technique and speed made her an instant standout growing up. Despite growing up and spending most of her line in Austria, Sabrina chose to represent Kenya at the Olympics -- an ode to her mother’s birthplace and not wanting to leave her motherland.

Erin Jackson

Youtube: Watch Erin Jackson's Olympic Long Track Speedskating Trials
As a lifelong speed skater on inline roller skates but a newcomer on the ice, she never expected to make the 2018 Winter Olympics. At the USA Olympic trials in Milwaukee, Erin made history in the same year as Maame -- qualifying in the Olympics for speed skating. She shaved off an entire second off of her personal best in the 500 meter prior to the trials, and will be America’s first-ever Black woman to compete in Olympic long-track skating in 2022.

Gabby Maiden

She is the FIRST Black female competitive international snowboarder. At just 12 years old, Gabby began snowboarding and fell in love with the sport. In 2006, Gabby’s unique freestyle won a competition for a cash prize and brand sponsorship, catapulting her name ID. FUN FACT: Gabby also starred in Netflix’s Stranger Things 2!

The Nigerian Bobsled Team

Youtube: Watch The Nigerian Bobsled Team's 2018 Olympic Highlights
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga are the first Africans ever to compete in the sport of bobsled -- and it all started with a Go FundMe. Seun even hand-made a training sled to begin preparing for the journey and Adigun used all of her savings. These were some badass women with a dream of going from track and field to the ice (just like Vanetta). While it was short-lived, their representation has already made a massive impact. The Phenomenal Three pledged to develop the sport in Nigeria, grow the Nigerian sporting federation, and grow winter sports and the Winter Olympics in Africa.

Simidele Adeagbo

After reading about the Nigerian bobsled team, South African-based Simidele instantly became inspired. While she wasn’t able to join the completed bobsled team, her raw talent led her to the ice as a skeleton slider in just FOUR months, becoming the first-ever African female to represent her native country in the sport.

Debi Thomas

Debi is the first Black woman to win both the U.S. and World Figure skating championships. Debi made history and broke fashion barriers all while studying to be a doctor. She challenged the norms of figure skating when she famously wore a beaded, full-body black unitard (no skirt) at the 1988 Olympics (where she copped a bronze medal), which the International Skating Union banned.

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