By Erick Johnson and J. Coyden Palmer, Crusader
Gold always looks good on black.
Together, they radiate the dominance and grace of a dynasty. From the ornate relics inside the grand palaces of kings and queens of ancient Egypt to the gowns of an opulent gala, it’s a combination that has dazzled humanity for centuries.
For the next two weeks, millions of sports fans in Rio de Janeiro and across the globe will see black and gold amid the pomp and exquisite pageantry of the XXXI Olympiad, commonly known as the Summer Games.
Once every four years, Black athletes from the four corners of the globe are among thousands of Olympians vying for a coveted gold medal. With a total of 976 gold medals and 2,404 overall, America has dominated the games thanks to the stellar and natural talent of African Americans in track and field, basketball, boxing, and now gymnastics and tennis. On the international stage, they have shown the world that black and gold are inseparable.
Despite concerns of the Zika virus, Black female athletes have the potential to dominate the 2016 Olympics. Many of them already hold gold medals, but a new crop is poised to take home the hardware from Rio.
Gymnast Simone Biles is another Black rising star who’s generating a lot of buzz with her jaw-dropping flips and somersaults. She has won 10 gold world championships in the last three years. In her quest for excellence, Biles has never lost in a gymnastics competition. With her debut and the return of Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team will be ahead of the class. Whoever thought that Blacks would also dominate the gymnastics field?
The Olympic achievements of these Black athletes should remind us who we are as a people—generations of Blacks whose talents are worth gold. It will be an inspiring break from the police and mass shootings that have overwhelmed neighborhoods around the country in recent months. While it’s a time for American patriotism, for many brothers and sisters, it’s a time for Black pride. Say it loud.
Out of 555 athletes on the U.S. Olympic team, 126 of them are Black. Some 68 of them are competing in various track and field events—traditionally the most popular competition among Black athletes. Perhaps for the first time in Olympic history, the women’s tennis team is predominantly Black with Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens joining the Williams sisters in Rio.
Among the 126 Blacks, 36 of them are gold medalists. With fresh talent, rising stars and the determined Olympic hopefuls, the 2016 Summer Games may be colored with Black and gold.
To the dismay of opponents, Blacks and gold have become inseparable during the Olympics. For a group that was once not allowed to play in one of the most prominent sporting events in the world, Blacks clad in gold have become an enduring Olympic tradition that has lifted the spirits of America. For the Black community, the success of athletes of color has become a symbol of pride for a culture that has been given little to win off the field, as well as on it.
Since Philadelphia’s John Baxter Taylor Jr. became the first Black to win a gold medal in the 1908 Olympics in London, Black athletes in America and the world have helped their countries achieve Olympic glory. From Chicago’s Jesse Owens to Wilma Rudolph to Gabby Douglas, many Blacks have been inspired with their fearless tenacity, achievements and unbelievable dominance. They have shown the world that Blacks not only love gold, but also deserve it.
Without Lebron James, Chris Paul and other gold medalists, the men’s basketball team is still expected to come out on top with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Carmelo Anthony. In wrestling, Jordan Burroughs aims to win a second gold medal after finishing first in the 2012 Olympics.
The games will also be a quest for redemption for track stars, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, who were banned or stripped of their medals after they were found guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Gatlin—who won a gold medal in the Olympics in Athens in 2004—and two-time gold medalist, LaShawn Merritt, are expected to provide a formidable challenge to the world’s fastest man, six-time gold medal winner Usain Bolt from Jamaica.
Black American women dominate U.S. Olympic teams.
Lia Neal, Simone Manuel and Ashleigh Johnson are three names you should follow in Rio—all three wo-men are trailblazers in the swimming pool.
Manuel and Neal seek to bring back gold medals and Johnson is the starting goaltender for the U.S. Women’s Water Polo team. The trio will be the first group of Black women to represent the United States in the Olympics in their respective sports. They won’t be the only ones to keep an eye out for at the games.
Sixteen-year-old (that’s right we said it 16) Sydney McLaughlin from New Jersey will run in the 400-meter hurdles while Simone Biles and defending champ, Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, will lead the gymnastics team seeking to repeat as Olympic champions.
While she was the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year for 2015-16 as a junior, McLaughlin still shocked the track community by making the Olympic team at the trials in Oregon last month. She beat out two perennial favorites: LoLo Jones and Chicago’s Shamier Little to make the team. Speed runs in the McLaughlin family genes.
Her brother, Taylor, is a member of the University of Michigan team. Her father was a 400-meter semifinalist at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and her mother also is a runner. McLaughlin is the youngest athlete to make the American Olympic track and field team since Carol Lewis and Denean Howard qualified in 1980, but were unable to compete because the USA boycotted the games that were being held in Russia. She will turn 17 on Aug. 7 and run her first Olympic meet on Aug. 15.
Neal and Manuel have burst onto the swimming scene, along with the University of Florida’s, Natalie Hinds.
Last year, the Crusader reported how the three women finished in the top three places at the NCAA swimming championships. Since that time, Manuel and Neal have emerged as some of the strongest swimmers in the country, and they will be swimming together on the 400-meter relay team. Manuel will also be swimming in the individual 50 and 100-meter freestyle categories as well. Neal will swim in the 400-meter individual.
The two are also teammates at Stanford University where they have won national championships. Neal was a bronze medalist at the 2012 Olympics in the 400-meter relay. For Manuel, this will be her first Olympic competition, and she is excited.
“This is what you’ve been dreaming about since you were a kid,” said the Texas native. “To be able to go with Lia, who has been there before and is a teammate, will make it even more special. We understand our country and community will be looking at us, so we want to do well.”
Johnson, a native of South Florida, also aims to make waves as a tough goaltender in water polo. Her mother introduced her to the sport because she wanted her to be a strong swimmer.
In an interview with her school newspaper at Princeton University, Johnson spoke about her first experience in water. She shared that growing up around a lot of water in Florida swimming is a life-saving skill everyone should have, especially with Blacks drowning at a high rate.
“I don’t remember the first time I played water polo very well. But, I remember that even though I didn’t know anything about water polo, I still had a ton of fun playing in a sport against all my siblings,” Johnson said.
Now, she plays very well. Not only is she the first Black to make the team, she is playing one of the premiere positions. She will graduate from Princeton next year and is enjoying her time in the limelight as the goalie for the team favored to win the gold in Rio.
Water polo is most popular in California and Florida, but Illinois is one of a few states that has high school teams—nearly 100 boys and girls programs.
The Chicago Public Schools has over a dozen schools that have male and female water polo teams, and they are viewed as ambassadors who are trying to make inroads in inner-city schools. Johnson is a big part of their efforts. Last month, the USA Olympic team played an exhibition match at Johnson’s old high school in Florida.
“The crowd was incredible,” she said. “I was so proud to see the stands packed with people I know and grew up with.”
Four years ago in London, Douglas emerged on the world stage to win arguably the most prestigious gold medal at the summer games—the all-around gymnastics title. This time Douglas will have the electrifying Biles with her at the games.
The UCLA sophomore and Columbus, OH native, Biles has mesmerized crowds with her performances, and she is now considered the one to beat in Rio. At 4’9” and 104 lbs., Biles is a tiny powder keg on the uneven bars and her floor routines have become must-watch TV.