HomeBad Ass AsiansFinal Thoughts on the Olympic's Asian American Athletes

Final Thoughts on the Olympic’s Asian American Athletes

Shib Sibs with Tina Chen
Figure skater Karen Chen, center, poses with Alex and Maia Shibutani.

Views from the Edge

The sight of so many Asian American athletes representing the United States at the Olympics should have an impact for years to come.

Hopefully, Americans and mainstream media learned some lessons along the way to Pyongchang, South Korea where the Olympics were held this last two weeks.

The view of what an “American” looks like took a hit but not without creating a few “opps” moments by those reporting on the Olympics.

The winter sports athletes are still overwhelmingly White but this year, there are signs that Team USA is inching towards diversity. Nonwhite athletes (11 black Olympians and 12 Asian American Olympians) account for just under 9 percent of the American team, There are also 108 women, about 45 percent of the team and two openly gay male athletes, according to team data. That might not sound like much but it’s a great improvement from four years ago.

Winter sports have been dominated by European countries where most of the sports originated. That tradition and the fact that the cost and isolated locations of the venues have further separated the sports from much of America.

“I think it sends out a strong message when there is a team that has a good cross-section of ethnicities,” Elana Meyers Taylor, a 2014 Olympic silver medalist in bobsled, told USA Today. “If there is a child watching and they don’t see anyone that looks like them, it creates a little mental barrier.”

Seeing the Asian American skaters and snowboarders during the Winter Olympics will inspire some young people to compete in those sports.

When figure skater Mirai Nagasu did her historic triple axel, something no other American Olympic female skater has ever done, New York Times writer Bari Weiss couldn’t help but celebrate on Twitter. Retweeting a video of Nagasu’s jump, Weiss wrote in a now-deleted tweet: “Immigrants: They get the job done.”

People were quick to point out that the 18-year old was born and raised in California, a child of immigrants. Critics said that Weiss was falling into the trap of most Americans by “othering” Nagasu because Asian Americans are seen as perpetual foreigners, no matter how many generations they are removed from their immigrant ancestors.

Nagasu was also central to mini-controversy when she finished her long program in figure skating, an even where she finished a disappointing 10th. She gave a press conference in which she said some comments that were interpreted as belittling her teammates when competing in skating’s team competition.

“I would like to be on Dancing With the Stars because I want to be a star,” Nagasu, who stuck her triple axel in the team event, said. “I made history here by landing the first triple axel for a U.S. lady at the Olympics so I think that is a big deal. I hope I get more opportunities to let my personality just shine.

“It’s been a long three weeks, and we got here and got to walk in the opening ceremonies and then I saved the team event, with Adam (Rippon) and the Shibutanis,” Nagasu said. “We were about to lose our medals so today I put my medal in my pocket and said ‘Mirai you have done your job already and this is all just icing.’

Later, she apologized profusely in a People magazine interview.

“I feel really, really awful about the things I said,” she said though tears, according to People. “I feel bad that people think that I was throwing my teammates under the bus because I never wanted to come off that way.

Apparent free spirits Filipino American snowboarder Hailey Langland and Korean American gold medal winner Chloe Kim, both 17, reminded everyone what it is like to be an American teenager. Both enjoyed good press for their back stories and accomplishments.

Although Langland failed to qualify for a medal, the experience prepared her for the upcoming World Championships and she’s young enough to get ready for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China as she noted in her Twitter account”

haileylanglandMy 2018 #Olympics journey is officially over. So happy to have come out to Pyeongchang and competed with the best girls in the biz. Another huge thanks to all my friends, family, and sponsors who supported me. Maybe I will be lucky enough to return in 4 years for some redemption.

Hailey’s pal Chloe Kim has exploded onto the American consciousness with her gold medal run in the halfpipe snowboarding competition. She’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was interviewed on the Jimmy KImmel show.

Except for speedskater JR Celski and ice dancer Madison Chock, both of whom are in their mid-20s, all the other Asian American athletes are all so young including ice dance bronze medalists Alex and Maia Shibutani, figure skater Karen Chen, 18; men’s figure skaters Nathan Chen, 18; Vincent Zhou, 17;  speedskaters Aaron Tran, 17 and Thomas Hong, 20; should be contending for a medal. They all could possibly return along with Kim, Langland and Nagasu four years from now in Beijing.

Team USA’s efforts to get the best athletes to compete in the winter sports means the sports federations will have to reach out to the rest of America. America in turn, may have to change their definition of what an “American” looks like.

Representation does matter. Many of the Asian American skaters on today’s team say they were inspired by seeing Tai Babilonia, Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan and Apolo Ono compete on the ice.

“Seeing someone like you who’s accomplishing things that you aspire to, means a lot,” says Yaamaguchi, whose own role model was Tiffany Chin, who skated in the 1984 Olympics.

Somewhere in the U.S., there may be a young girl or boy who watched the 12 Asian American Olympians, who says, “Hey, that could be me.”

(Editor’s Note: Previous version of this story misidentified Karen Chen in the photo and incorrectly called Nagasu’s historic jump a triple lutz. We apologize for the mistakes.)

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