Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian knows the power of representation.
The Jamaican Olympic bobsledder, who was born in the United States but is competing for Jamaica at the PyeongChang Games, started to answer a question Saturday about the importance of diversity in sports during a news conference in South Korea when she started to choke up.
It’s important that “little girls and and boys see someone that looks like them,” Fenlator-Victorian said, occasionally pausing to collect herself, “talks like them, has the same culture as them, has crazy curly hair and wears it natural, has brown skin included in different things in this world. When you grow up and you don’t see that, you feel like you can’t do it and that is not right.”
The Winter Olympic demographic for the most part is overwhelming white. Even the U.S. Olympic Committee, which boasted about sending its most diverse team ever to a Winter Games, acknowledge that more needs to be done.
Of the 243 Team USA athletes, 10 are African American and another 10 are Asian American.
“We’re not quite where we want to be,” Jason Thompson, the USOC’s director of diversity and inclusion, told The Washington Post’s Rick Maese. “. . . I think full-on inclusion has always been a priority of Team USA. I think everybody’s always felt it should represent every American.”
In 2014, Fenlator-Victorian was named to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team for the Sochi Olympics, but switched her affiliation to Jamaica this year to promote diversity.
Her father, Cosman, is from Jamaica.
“My passion for culture, my heritage, my representation, my voice but most importantly a platform for expansion of diversity and inclusion is what drove this decision home,” Fenlator-Victorian told NorthJersey.com. “I hope this historic Olympic first and my team’s participation will open doors of discussion and action for other nations to take the plunge to participate.”
Fenlator-Victorian, 32, will pilot Jamaica’s first Olympic women’s bobsled team in PyeongChang this month, 30 years after Jamaica sent a men’s bobsled team to the 1988 Calgary Olympics that was the inspiration for the Disney film “Cool Runnings.”
Most winter sports, Maese writes, face two significant hurdles in creating more diversity: geography and economics.
These sports are typically practiced in specific areas and could also come with a hefty cost. There’s also the factor that there are not many famous minority faces in these sports to inspire the next generation of athletes.
Jordan Greenway, the first black U.S. Olympic hockey player, hopes he can change that.
“It kind of feels like an inspiration, trying to get more African Americans like me trying to play hockey, not falling into stereotypes of playing football, basketball,” Greenway told Maese. “Obviously, there’s not a ton of African Americans playing hockey. It’s worked out great for me. I’ve had a great experience with it. I hope kids see that it’s good to play hockey, too.”
And to all those watching Fenlator-Victorian from Jamaica, she wants her presence in PyeongChang to inspire others who look like her.
“I wanted my Jamaican people to see that they can do it,” she said. “And that there’s not just one path this way or one path that way to get out of poverty or make money or make a name for themselves. If they want to be a winter Olympian and do Alpine [skiing], now they see their fellow Jamaicans in the Winter Olympics.”