Black Gymnasts Proud to Represent at Paris Olympics

Simone Biles
(from the Minneapolis Recorder)

Last week, Minneapolis was the final stop on the journey to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.  Downtown Minneapolis was renamed 2024 Gymnastics City USA as the USA Olympic gymnastics trials and other related events occurred. Just a few miles away at the University of Minnesota, the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for swimming was held at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. The MSR covered both Olympic-related events for the first time.

Six Black female gymnasts were expected to compete for a spot on the USA Paris Olympics gymnastics team last week in Minneapolis: Simone Biles, Simone Rose, Zoey Molomo, Shilese Jones, Skye Blakely, and Jordan Chiles. However, both Blakely and Jones got injured and weren’t able to continue.

Biles and Chiles were named Sunday to the USA team.

“I think representation is incredibly important to have Black and brown [gymnasts] on both the men’s and women’s side to showcase their talents at the highest level,” said Jessica Poole of St. Paul. She and her best friend were among the well over 50,000 who attended the four-day event that began last Thursday and concluded Sunday night.

“I think that’s something that we should celebrate and talk about a whole lot more than we do,” Poole continued. “It’s wonderful to see how our Black and Brown athletes have expanded sports. We are no longer just basketball, softball, baseball players. We have Black and brown athletes in lacrosse, swimming, and Black and brown gymnasts.”

There were three Black male gymnasts at last week’s trials: Fred Richard, Khoi Young and Donnell Wittenberg.

“I grew up with feeling kind of the odd one out, and now I have this opportunity to represent and inspire these younger kids,” said Richard. “When I’m looking in the crowd and I see way more young Black kids holding up signs, [that] makes me really happy.”

Making the USA team “would be satisfying a desire that I’ve had since I was a little boy,” added Young.

Wittenberg, the oldest of the three black gymnasts at age 29, admitted, “I grew up obviously not having many Black athletes to look up to in gymnastics … I want to be that person that shows that all the hard work pays off and I can motivate them.”

Former Florida gymnast Trinity Thomas, one of the most successful NCAA gymnasts in history, did not qualify to compete in last week’s trials, but took part in signing autographs and posed for pictures with fans.

“It’s a blessing to be an inspiration to so many young women and men too,” Thomas told the MSR. “I like doing the photos and the autographs.”

Behind the scenes, Rachel Duke was one of the most visible Black officials for USA Gymnastics—she is the communications coordinator. “I would say half of my job is many relations working with you guys, getting what you need and all that stuff. Then the other half is editorial like writing press releases, figuring out the editorial calendar,” she explained.

Duke was a USA Gymnastics summer intern before being hired full-time in February 2023.

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