Simone Biles, gymnast from the United States, during the final in which she won the gold medal in the competition for women's teams at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo credit: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil for Agência Brasil Fotografias

Black woman excellence steps to the forefront of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

5 mins read

All eyes on Black women in the Olympics shows diversity in Black sister magic, and brilliant athletes.

The International Review for the Sociology of Sport reported that men and white American athletes continue to be the most mentioned and positively portrayed in television coverage. Today however, Black women are increasingly being put in the spotlight especially in this year’s Olympic competition. Indeed, the ability of Black women athletes to switch it up when need be, their strength, intelligence and perseverance far outweighs intersectional disadvantages unique to them. 

No matter the stage, the pressures of the world weigh in. “Growing up, me and my siblings were so focused on food because we didn’t have a lot of food,” recounts American Gymnast Simone Biles. Biles did not have the smoothest start in life. Due to her mother struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, the 24-year-old gymnast was in the foster care system for quite some time before her grandfather, Ron Biles, adopted her

As well, the odds were stacked up against her. WXII News reports that Black Women account for nearly 10 percent of scholarship athletes at the NCAA Division I level. But against all odds, Biles, often referred to as the greatest of all time, quickly rose through the ranks to become the first gymnast that has won four gold medals in a single game.

Team USA tweeted, “@Simone_Biles qualifies for all four event finals. Plus, she’ll compete in the all-around and team finals. Just goat things. #TokyoOlympics”

Yet shortly thereafter, Biles withdrew from the team final competition due to complications involving her mental health.  “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard,” said Biles. 

The Columbus, Ohio native told Today that she felt good physically. “Emotionally it varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being a head star isn’t an easy feat,” said Biles.

. . . .

Crabs in a barrel

There is an idiom within the African-American community that says once you start doing well, haters will start trying to pull you down like crabs in a barrel. Yet recently, Raven “The Hulk” Saunders pushed her fellow American shot putter Jessica Ramsey up the barrel as opposed to pulling her down. 

It began when the 26-year-old South Carolina native beat her own personal best with a throw of 19.96 meters. However, her victory was short-lived as Ramsey topped her with a throw of 20.12 meters—making Ramsey the first American female in five years to go over the 20-meter mark as reported by Essentially Sports.

“Honestly, if I could have lost to anybody, I’m happy it was Jessica, man” said Saunders. “I’m happy for her, happy for myself. We are pumping each other up. It was great to make that magic again.”

. . . .

Ageism in the Olympics

Allyson Felix in her new sports fashion, lifestyle line, Saysh. Photo credit: Saysh Facebook

Sports is always an uphill battle for athletes who “age out.” The Journal of Human Sport and Exercise reports that the average age of peak in Olympic sports is 27 for men and 26 years of age for women. Even more, the maximum age for women who are typically recruited for sprint athletics is 32.

American Sprinter and six-time gold medalist, Allyson Felix entered into the Olympics at the age of 19. Now, at age 35, and well over the “age out” time limit, the California native wanted to slow down a bit and have a child. Shortly after she gave birth to her daughter, Felix sought to renegotiate her contract with Nike in order to secure time to recover from her emergency c-section.  Instead they declined and cut her pay by 70 percent. When the six-time Olympic gold medalist contested, she was told to “know her place.”

It is at this point that Felix’s entrepreneurial journey began. Indeed, Felix one-upped Nike by making a name for herself and launching her athletic footwear company,  Saysh. Her goal is to use her brand as a means to undermine inequality through female creativity and athleticism.

Felix tweeted, “I’m thankful for the strong role models in my life, and for my daughter, who showed me that greatness is taking action to advocate for good.”

. . . .

Afro Hair Swim Cap Ban

The Undefeated reports that 69 percent of Black children and 58 percent of Latino children don’t know how to swim. “That’s something I definitely struggled with a lot…I kind of tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders, which is something I carry with me,” said Co-Captain of the U.S Olympic swim squad, Simone Manuel.

Certainly the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) recent decision to ban soul caps, which are made extra large in size to hold braids, locks and kinky hair, has not made things any easier. Prior to this ban, Manuel partnered with the Soul Cap along with Alice Dearing, the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event.

Subsequently, FINA backpedaled and is currently reconsidering their position on Soul Caps, in order to highlight the importance of inclusivity and representation, as reported by MSN.

Manuel tweeted, “My wins are not just for me. They’re for everyone who confronted injustice & broke down barriers. You paved the way.”

. . . .

Use Your Voice or Lose Your Voice

Gwen Berry at the 2018 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Photo Credit: enaragon94 on Flickr

Recently, Hammer Thrower and two-time Olympian, Gwen Berry, came under fire in an act of protest. While the “Star Spangled Banner ” played during the trial events for this year’s Tokyo Olympics in Oregon. 

“Athletes we MUST use our voices .. not only for the sport.. but for our LIVES,” said Berry. Yahoo News reports that immediately following her act of protest, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) called for her removal from the Olympics due to her unpatriotism. 

Cruz tweeted, “Why does the Left hate America? Sure, we have our faults, but no nation in the history of the world has liberated more people from captivity, has lifted more out of poverty, has bled more for freedom, or has blessed more w/ abundance. God bless America.”

Although the International Olympic Committee has banned political protests, currently, there are several petitions circulating the internet to secure Berry’s right to protest or eliminate her from the Olympics completely. 

. . . .

First openly transgendered woman to win a NCAA title

Being the first of anything, always has its challenges. Recently, CeCe Telfer, the first openly transgender Hurdalist and 2019 NCAA division II track and field champion was disqualified from the womens 400-meter hurdles in the US Olympic trials due to testosterone levels. 

As per ESPN, World Athletics revised its guidelines and now requires athletes who run between 400 meters and a mile to have less than five nonomoles per liter. “CeCe will respect USA Track & Field’s decision on her eligibility to compete at the US Olympic Trials,” said Tefler’s manager, David McFarland.

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