Kelly Curtis, Team USA’s first black Olympic skeleton racer, flew face down on the ice Thursday at 120 kilometers an hour — picking up speed and making history.
The 33-year-old U.S. airwoman is also the only U.S. Air Force member at the games, and her sport, skeleton racing, is a winter sliding sport. The athlete rides a small sled down a frozen track while lying facing down and head first.
Ironically, Curtis was not especially interested in winter sports when she was growing up in Princeton, N.J.
Basketball was the first winter sport that she fell in love with.
“I didn’t really see too many people that look like me or had a similar background,” Curtis told Team USA of watching winter sports as a child.
“I was always too scared to do it. I didn’t really feel like I had what it took, and I also did not like the cold,” she told the Air Force Times.
“So it just never seemed like a door that would be open.”
But Curtis kicked the door in anyway.
Ahead of Beijing, she was ranked 14th in the world, but she’s seen as a role model for black children and all children with dreams.
In other news, Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld became the first Americans to win the gold in freestyle skiing, beating China, to take Team USA’s fourth gold medal of the Beijing Olympics. (Full disclosure: Caldwell and Schoenfeld are dating.)
“It was an out-of-body experience today,” Caldwell told Olympics.com after being part of Team USA’s first gold-winning mixed aerials team in freestyle skiing.
“In that first round, we had a lot more to give as we qualified in second, and (it was) mostly my fault that I put the hands down just a little bit. But we knew we had a lot more to give going into that last round and it was just going to come down to executing it. Luckily, we all did that,” Lillis said.
“I haven’t stopped smiling for like 30 minutes and my cheeks are starting to get sore, but it’s seriously the greatest feeling. I just won the biggest competition in the world, especially with two of my best friends,” said Schoenefeld.
Added Caldwell, “Aerials is an incredibly difficult and scary sport. I’ve always said this, that at the top of the hill we know what each other is going through and that builds a bond.
“We have so much mutual respect for everyone on the hill. And (we’ve) never really had a lot of team events. So this has definitely built a different atmosphere. It’s very fun.”
Today is Shaun White’s ride as a competitive snowboarder in what has been reported as his fifth and final Olympics and his final event as a competitive snowboarder.
“Everything’s got this glow on it because it’s my last time. It’s just like the way that the world spins,” he told Olympics.com in January.