Kelly Curtis Is Team USA’s First Black Athlete to Ever Compete in Olympic Skeleton

In 2014, Kelly Curtis was watching skeleton at the Sochi Olympics on TV, just a few months after seeing the sport in person for the first time. Captivated by the emotion shown by the athletes, she knew it was something she wanted to pursue. Eight years later, she made her Olympic debut in the sport, becoming the first Black athlete, male or female, to represent Team USA in skeleton at the Winter Olympics.

On February 11, Curtis, 33, competed in her two heats at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, posting a combined score of 2:05.99, tying the Russian Olympic Committee’s Elena Nikitina for 18th place. Australia’s Jacyln Narracott leads the field with a time of 2:04.34 going into the final runs tomorrow. Five-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender is in eighth place so far, the highest for Team USA.

“I have some things to clean up for day two,” Curtis said to Team USA after the event. “I had to clean up a couple of things from the first run into the second run, and then some more problems arose, so I’m going back, talking with my coaches and seeing what we can put together for day two.”

Curtis, who is from New Jersey, grew up a multisport athlete before focusing on track and field. Competing for Springfield College, she won the 2011 Penn Relays in the heptathlon, an event that includes the 100-meter hurdle, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin, and 800-meter run.

“I didn’t think I would continue my athletic career post-collegiately. I thought I would become an athletic director and contribute back to sports in that capacity,” Curtis said to the NCAA in a February 2 interview about her journey to the 2022 Olympic Games.

In 2013, she decided to try bobsled for the first time after her college track coach floated the idea to her. It was not an entirely uncommon transition, as many athletes in winter sliding sports often got their starts in other (on-the-ground) disciplines. Curtis then switched her focus to the related sport of skeleton after seeing how much fun the skeleton athletes were having on the track, as she told Team USA—a decision which was only emphasized when she saw the full range of emotion on display among the U.S. athletes during the Sochi Games. Soon, she began making the podium in skeleton, first at the North American Cup and then the Intercontinental Cup. 

In 2020, she joined the U.S. Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, a program which allows athletes to pursue their sports while maintaining a military career. She continued to progress, and in November of 2021, she placed ninth at her first World Cup, setting the stage for an Olympic qualification. 

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“For me to be going to the Olympics and representing not only Team USA but also the U.S. Air Force is a lot more than what I expected,” she told the NCAA. “I think I have the best job right now.”

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