After the 2012 London Olympics, where US women won about 60 percent of American’s gold medals, sports fans should have seen it coming.
Four years later in Rio de Janeiro, Team USA fielded the largest women contingency in Olympic history, and USA women athletes lead the count of Gold Medals — doubling the number won by the men.
Punctuating the golden victories were African-American women. In track and field, three African-American women Brianna Rollins, 25, Nia Ali, 27, and Kristi Castlin, 28, completed their historic sweep in the women’s 100-meter hurdles as easy as one, two, three.
“It’s a big day for women,” Rollins said.
The trio’s accomplishment is the first time American women of any race swept an Olympic track and field event. Rollins ran away with the Gold, Ali took the Silver after running neck-and-neck with Kristi Castlin, who took home the Bronze. When the American flag was raised, the trio owned the Olympic podium.
An Inspiration to Young African-American Women
Not to over shadow Rollins, Ali and Castlin’s historic run, the big question during the Olympics was: “Is 19-year-old artistic gymnast, Simone Biles the greatest gymnast of all time?”
We’ll, unless you’ve been living under a rock during last month’s Olympics, you’ve probably caught the 4 ft. 8 in. Biles high-wire act — defying gravity and winning four gold medals. Judges, fans and spectators gasped in awe, as Biles spun, flipped, twirled and tumbled herself into Olympic history.
Biles performance was so incredible, only one word could describe it – Electrifying. So electrifying that Team USA chose Biles to carry the US flag during the closing ceremony, thus securing her place in US history as the second gymnast to have bestowed the honor. Biles routines were so amazing, that she joins an elite group of female gymnasts to win four gold medals in one Olympic event – Ecaterina Szabo (1984), Vera Caslavska (1968) and Larisa Latynina (1956).
If Biles did have an off performance, it was when she won a Bronze medal for her Balance Beam performance; bringing her total to five Olympic medals tying Mary Lou Retton (’84), Shannon Miller (’92) and Nastia Liukin (’08) of the most medals won by an American gymnast in a single Olympic event.
Dispelling a Stereotype
“We all have potential to be great,” said Tianna Bartoletta, 30, who leaped into history finishing first in the women’s long jump. “We all have a purpose. So believe that and fulfill your dreams, because there’s always a destiny for each and every one of us.”
Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, 29, finished first and second clinching the United States’ lead in the 2016 Summer Olympics medal table. Only two centimeters separated Bartoletta (7.17 meters) and Reese (7.15 meters), with Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic coming in third.
However, the American women were not through winning the Gold. Dispelling the stereotype that blacks are not good competitive swimmers, Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic Gold medal for individual swimming in the women’s 100 freestyle final – setting an Olympic and an American record.
After the heat, Manuel looked at the scoreboard and was surprised to see she was tied for a Gold Medal and set an Olympic-record time of 52.70 seconds.
At the end of the day the 20-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas won two Gold and two Silver medals (Gold in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley, and Silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100 meter freestyle relay).
“I’m just so blessed to have a Gold medal,” Manuel told to NBC news after the event. “This medal is not just for me. It’s for a whole bunch of people who came before me and have been an inspiration to me. It’s for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it, and I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”
A Brave New World
In the past, Black women exceled in track and field events featuring sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner and recently gymnastics with Dominique Dawes.
However, Black women are now reaping the harvest of Title IX, the 1972 amendment that states no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Clarissa Shields steps in the ring as the youngest boxer in the February 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, winning the 165-pound weight class. In May 2012, she qualified to compete at the 2012 Olympics, the first year that women’s boxing was an Olympic event. At the London Olympic Games in August 2012, Shields became the first U.S. woman to win a boxing medal winning the Olympic middleweight title by defeating Russian boxer Nadezda Torlopova.
Shields, 21, defended the Gold medal she won in London with a unanimous decision over Nouchka Fontijn in the women’s middleweight class female boxing. Shields becomes the first American boxer in history to win consecutive Olympic gold medals.
“I wanted to let it be known that I’m not just a great female boxer, but I’m one of the great boxers to ever live,” Shields told NBC Sports. “I’m the first American to be a two-time gold medalist, oh my God.”
Michelle Carter, 30, who holds the current American shot put record (20.63 meters), became the first African-American woman to win Gold in the shot put competition. And Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, the first Muslim-American woman to compete for the U.S. in a hijab, won a Bronze medal in the women’s team sabre event.
Enter Rio 2016 where Black women not only competed in new and different events — they dominated.
2016 Final Top Five Medal Winners!
1. United States: 46 (Gold), 37 (Silver), 38 (Bronze) [Total: 121]
2. People’s Republic of China: 26 (Gold), 18 (Silver), 38 (Bronze) [Total: 82]
3. Great Britain: 27 (Gold), 23 (Silver), 17 (Bronze) [Total: 67]
4. Russian Federation: 19 (Gold), 18 (Silver), 19 (Bronze) [Total: 56]
5. Germany: 17 (Gold), 10 (Silver), 15 (Bronze) [Total: 42]