The 2020 Tokyo Olympics Summer Games may have been delayed by a year, but the Black women Olympians competing for gold certainly won’t be denied. Black women have long dominated the Olympics. From sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who became the first woman to win three gold medals at an Olympics game, to the legendary Serena Williams, who has four Olympic gold medals among her numerous accolades, Black women have been extraordinary to watch at the premiere sporting event, even when racist and unfair practices have tried to push them out.
Legendary gymnast Simone Biles, one of the most talented athletes on the planet, is constantly being hit with negative scores for being about to outperform everyone else in her sport. Black British swimmer Alice Dearing, who had been wearing the newly created Soul Cap to accommodate her curly tresses, has been banned from wearing the swimming cap in Tokyo.
Tennis champion Naomi Osaka has spoken openly about the toll being in the spotlight has taken on her mental health, and relative newcomer Sha’Carri Richardson, who has been called one of the fastest women in the world, was banned from the Olympic Games amid a positive marijuana drug test. Still, Black women athletes have continued to thrive and sparkle under immense pressure and scrutiny. In fact, the pushback and arbitrary rules haven’t slowed Black women Olympians down one bit.
As expected, The Black Beauties Of The Olympics are showing up, speaking out, and aiming for gold.
1. Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka is one of the most talked-about Olympians at the Tokyo games. The Haitian-Japanese, tennis player lit the Olympic Cauldron at the Tokyo Opening ceremony, becoming the first tennis player ever to have the honor.
Ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association, she is the first woman to win successive Grand Slam singles titles since Serena Williams in 2015.
An outspoken supporter of Black Lives Matter; the Tokyo games are Osaka’s very first Olympic Games. They also mark her highly anticipated return to tennis following a two-month mental health hiatus.
The Vogue cover model has been open about the toll the press, and the spotlight have taken on her, but that hasn’t stopped her from speaking out for herself and others, nor has it prevented her from absolutely dominating on the tennis court. A source of inspiration even outside of the sporting world, Osaka is paving the way for a new generation of Black women living life on their own terms.
2. A’ja Wilson
Las Vegas Aces WNBA player A’ja Wilson uses her talents well beyond the basketball court. Though the 24-year old has been making her mark in her sport since her college days when she was crowned the Southeastern (SEC) Player of the Year winner for three years with the South Carolina Gamecocks, she also uses her platform to speak out for women.
A member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority, Wilson advocates for female athletes and women in general. Wilson is the owner of the Burnt Wax Candle company and the founder of The A’ja Wilson Foundation, which is committed to providing resources for young people dealing with dyslexia and bullying through educational programming. Wilson makes doing it all look effortless. Women’s basketball would not be the same without her presence at the Tokyo Games.
3. Simone Biles
Where it comes to gymnastics, Simone Biles is “That Girl.” She is the first female athlete (of any sport) to receive her very own emoji, which is rather fittingly for a goat. The 24-year-old and the U.S. gymnastic squad are in a league of their own, with Biles as the most-mentioned Team USA athlete and No. 2 most-mentioned athlete in the Olympics overall on Twitter.
Biles suddenly recently withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics to protect 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 hahaha!” she wrote on social media.
On the balance beam, Biles does things that no one has ever dared to do before, so much so that she’s had numerous movements named after her, including her gravity-defying, incredible double-tuck flip. The Columbus, Ohio-born athlete has 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. With those winnings she is the most decorated American gymnast ever.
The talented gymnast has also reshaped gymnastics off the mat. She used her voice to call out abuse within the sport, refusing to be silent while holding the powers at be to task.
4. Naya Tapper
While some Olympians begin mastering their sport when they are just children, 26-year-old rugby player Naya Tapper didn’t even start playing rugby, which is a fusion between football, soccer, and basketball, until she got to college.
Before landing at the University of North Carolina in 2012, Yapper dominated in track and field at the high school level. Rugby was just something she picked up on the side.
Tapper didn’t make her Rugby global debut until the 2016 São Paulo Women’s Sevens, but the rest is history. She is now one of just 12 players selected to represent Team USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in rugby. The former all All-American athlete is a huge advocate for young people of color looking to get into sports.
“It’s important to see people that look like you doing things you never imagined doing,” she recently shared on Twitter. “If you’re reading this caption right now and looking at this photo of amazing black/brown girls doing incredible things in sports and in life, I hope you are inspired.”
5. Allyson Felix
Track and Field icon Allyson Felix is returning to the Olympics for the first time since having her daughter in 2018. The four-time Olympian already has nine Olympic medals in her trophy case.
The most-decorated track and field athlete on Team USA is also taking time out of her extensive training and competing schedule to advocate for moms. She has spoken up about inadequate maternity protections for women in the past, even leaving her Nike deal due to lack of support following childbirth. Now, Felix has teamed up with Athleta athletic clothing brand to create a $200,000 child care fund for ten athletes who are mothers competing at the Olympics.
Though Felix is competing in the 400 meters race at the game, being a champion for other mom athletes is a top priority for her. “It was important to me and to Athleta that our partnership reflects that I am more than just an athlete,” she said in a press release via USA Today.
6. Dalilah Muhammad
Dalilah Muhammad knows a thing or two about breaking world records. The 31-year-old has set the world record twice in the 400m hurdles. Back In 2016, the Track and Field star took home the gold medal at the Rio Summer Olympic Games.
When she won in 2016, Muhammad earned the United States’ first-ever Olympic title in the event. The hurdler first broke the world record in 2016 when she ran her hurdles in 52.19 seconds. At the Olympic Trials this past June, Muhammad broke her own record with a time of 51.90. She became the first woman to ever come in on the 400m hurdles in under 52 seconds.
It’s shocking to think that Muhammad nearly quit the sport back in 2012 after graduating from the University of Southern California. Thankfully, she stuck it out and has been showing the world her talent since. We’re sure another gold medal is within reach for Muhammad in Tokyo.
7. Simone Manuel
When she showed up at the 2016 Rio Olympic Summer Games, Simone Manuel reminded everyone that Black girls thrive in water. The competition swimmer specializing in sprint freestyle won two gold and two silver medals. She became the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming and set an Olympic record and an American record.
When the Tokyo games were unexpectedly delayed amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Manuel used the time to tighten up her game. Like Osaka, Manuel has been open about mental health in the Black community and her own wellbeing during this past year. After receiving a burnout diagnosis early this year, she stopped training for three weeks to allow herself time to rest and restore. Manuel is reminding us all that rest and relaxation shouldn’t be a luxury.
8. Deja Young
24-year-old Deja Young is already a two-time gold medalist in the 100m and 200m events. The Paralympic athlete was born with a brachial plexus injury. The injury caused nerve damage and limited mobility to her right shoulder, but she’s never let that slow her down.
Young began competing in track and field when she was in high school. She has also been an advocate for mental health awareness, especially following an anxiety and depression diagnosis and having previously attempted suicide.
“What got me through was focusing on my love for athletics,” Young previously told the International Paralympic Committee. Young has continued to advocate for herself by getting frequent mental health checks and rediscovering her love for her sport.
NBC Universal has committed to providing 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage this summer so that we can watch Young in all of her glory.
9. Keni Harrison
At 5 foot 4 inches tall, Keni Harrison was always told that she was too short to be a hurdler. The 28-year-old shut down that noise quickly in 2016 when she set the world record in the women’s 100 meters hurdles with a time of 12.20 seconds.
An all-around athlete, Harrison dominated in both soccer and cheerleading before finding her niche on the track field. The Tennessee-born track star has never been one to be deterred by a setback.
“You need to put in the hard work. You can’t cut corners to be the best,” Harrison told Digital Journal. “For me, it did take a disappointment to pull that world record out. I was able to not give up, and that’s a lesson that I learned.”
10. Crystal Dunn
When it comes to soccer Crystal Dunn is literally goals. The 28-year-old has been with the U.S. Women’s National soccer team since 2013, and she’s now representing the U.S. at the Tokyo games. The New York-born star does it all, playing multiple positions for the North Carolina Courage.