It’s official: The 2016 Rio Olympic Games have claimed their space in black history.
For some black Olympians this year, the road to Rio has been a tumultuous one. But these athletes, like many others, have sacrificed sweat, blood and tears to earn distinguished triumph. They’ve defeated the odds, broken barriers and set records in their journey to success ― many of which have earned them prestigious gold medals, some even in predominantly white sports, like swimming.
It’s time, then, to get acquainted with these incredible black athletes and all they’ve accomplished at these Olympic Games.
Simone Manuel: Team USA, Swimming
Simone Manuel, 20, made history on Aug. 11 when she became the first black woman to earn a gold medal in individual swimming. Manuel, who is from Houston, Texas, tied for the top place medal with Canadian Penny Oleksiak.
Manuel burst into tears following her epic win and acknowledged just how much the emotional victory meant to her and millions around the world. It’s a significant win, especially considering swimming’s racist past. “This medal is not just for me,” she said in an interview following her epic win. “It’s for all the people who believe they can’t do it.”
Simone Biles: Team USA, Gymnastics
Simone Biles is a formidable force on Team USA’s majority-minority Olympic gymnastics group this year. At 19-years-old, Biles has distinguished herself as the world’s most dominant gymnast. Her accolades are astounding: She is the only woman to win world championships for three consecutive years and has been undefeated in all the gymnastic meets she’s competed in since 2013.
Biles has generated excitement from people around the country, and the world, who recognize her unbridled success and have praised her powerful performances. After all, she is the epitome of Black Girl Magic and a truly incomparable athlete: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she told Sporting News after accepting her second gold medal. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Gabby Douglas: Team USA, Gymnastics
Gabby Douglas made headlines during the 2012 London Olympics wheN she won gold and became the first African-American to win the individual all-around title. Now, she’s continuing her legacy at this year’s Rio Olympics where she helped Team USA win gold in gymnastics. Although she’ll be unable to defend her title in the all-around finals, Douglass still played a critical role in the team’s success this year.
Douglas HAS soared DESPITE BEING subjected to unfair public scrutiny of actions and appearance. However, her sense of perseverance and confidence are well-admired. “I have these challenges and circumstances and for me I love it,” she told The Huffington Post in a previous interview. “It determines if I’m going to give in, give up or push that limit and achieve my goal.”
Daryl D. Homer: Team USA, Fencing
Daryl Homer made a historic win for Team USA on Aug. 9 when he was awarded the silver medal in men’s sabre fencing, becoming the first American (and by default the first African-American) to take home the award in 112 years. Homer, who said he became fascinated with fencing at 5 years old and competed in the 2012 London Olympics, has fought relentlessly to make his country and fans proud.
That was a mission he accomplished after months of intense practice in a sport that is perceived to be dominated by white athletes. However, Homer said Peter Westbrook, a black Olympic fencer who scored the bronze medal in the controversial 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, motivated him to achieve success and high honor in the sport. “I wouldn’t have found an access point to fencing without Peter, so I probably wouldn’t have been here,” Homer told USA Today.
Carmelo Anthony: Team USA, Men’s Basketball
Carmelo Anthony broke a big record on Aug. 11 when he became America’s all-time leading scorer in basketball in the Olympics. Anthony, who represented Team USA, scored 293 points in total and claimed victory in the Olympic game against Australia. His performance surpassed a record once held by LeBron James, whose Olympic tally stands at 262 points.
He has set records that will be difficult for any athlete to break: This is Anthony’s fourth Olympics and he already has three Olympic gold medals and is considered by some to be the greatest-ever U.S. Olympic men’s basketball player. “I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career,” he told ESPN.
Rafaela Silva: Team Brazil, Judo
Rafaela Silva is now an international star. On Aug. 8, Silva won the gold medal in the 57-kilogram division for women’s judo. It was an honor she accepted with tears in her eyes as she claimed Brazil’s first gold medal at the Rio Olympics. But it was also an accomplishment that came after much personal adversity.
As a black woman born in one of Brazil’s impoverished favelas, Silva constantly combatted heavy racism from residents who still uphold a strong anti-black sentiment. “She has faced countless obstacles, injustices, and oppression in her young life,” one HuffPost blogger wrote in a piece published on HuffPost Brazil. “But the judo athlete showed incredible courage to overcome everything on her way to a win gold in her hometown’s Olympic Games.”
Almaz Ayana: Team Ethiopia, Track and Field
Ethiopian runner Almaz Ayana broke two records during one match on Aug. 12 when she set new highs for both the Olympic and world records in the 10,000-meter race in Rio.
Ayana, who represents Ethiopia in the Rio Olympics, finished the race in superb timing, which left many around the world astounded by her athleticism. Even sports commentators who watched her performance in real-time were in awe: “I cannot believe what I am witnessing here,” one NBC commentator said. “What we have witnessed is one the finest athletic achievements we’ve ever seen.”
Ibtihaj Muhammad: Team USA, Fencing
Ibtihaj Muhammad shattered stereotypes when she represented Team USA in this year’s Olympics and became the first American athlete to compete while wearing a hijab, which is the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Muhammad, who is black female fencer, did not win gold in the women’s individual sabre fencing competition but she did win the hearts of millions of people around the world who admire the work she has done to dispel myths around Muslim women. “In this particular political climate in the history of this country, it is groundbreaking to have a Muslim woman on the U.S. team,” she previously told BBC. “I am excited to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Muslim women.”
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