The make-up of the U.S. Olympic team competing at the Winter Games in Italy has changed considerably from years past. Rather than an almost exclusively white squad, the new-look American team is more racially diverse.
In the past, the U.S. squad was mainly composed of athletes from small communities in the cold-weather climates of the Northeast and Midwest United States, where Winter Olympic sports like skiing and skating are popular.
Although the U.S. Olympic Committee does not keep records on the racial or ethnic diversity of the team, participation by minority athletes has nearly quadrupled from the U.S. squad that competed just eight years ago in Nagano, Japan.
U.S. Olympic Committee Media Services Director Bob Condron says more and more minority athletes are competing in sports such as speed skating, luge, bobsled, and skeleton.
"Why it is happening? I think it is exposure to the Winter Olympics on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines," he said. "Bobsled went into a recruiting process about two or three Olympics ago and it went after the track athlete rather than a bobsled driver or pusher. Recruited a lot of minorities. That spreads and other minorities see it on TV and say, 'Hey, I can do that', and they want to become part of it."
Of the 211 athletes making up Team USA, at least 23 member have Hispanic or non-white backgrounds. The team includes African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, as well as athletes of Native American and Cuban heritage. In addition to the cold weather states, there are natives of Florida, Georgia, and Texas, as well as South Korea, Russia, and Japan.
Vonetta Flowers made history when she won a gold medal in the women's two-man bobsled event at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
"Not only being the first African-American, but the first black athlete from any nation to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. And, I truly feel blessed and honored to have that title," she said.
Flowers is teaming with Jean Prahm to defend her title in Turin.
A long track speed skater from Chicago, Shani Davis, 23, could become the first African-American to win an individual gold. But he tries to downplay the racial issue.
"It does not matter what color I am, Black or White, Asian or Hispanic, it does not matter to me. As long as the image I am portraying to the people that watch me on television is positive, no matter what color they are, I want to show people that it is OK to try different things and maybe you can be successful at it," he explained.
This diverse squad is expected to be one of the strongest teams is U.S. history. They are hoping to break the American record of 34 Winter Olympic medals set in Salt Lake City in 2002.