Black women are expected to prevail at the Tokyo Olympics despite the barriers built to disadvantage them.
Whether it’s by land, air or water, there are several stellar Black female athletes from around the world who came to conquer, and they deserve all the attention and praise.
Some of them, including track star Allyson Felix and gymnast Simone Biles, have shattered world records and brought their opponents to their knees with their athleticism. Others, like water polo goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, are breaking down barriers for those coming after them, becoming the first Black women to compete on the world stage in their respective sports.
Here are nine Black women competing for the United States to pay attention to at this year’s Olympic games.
The nine-time Olympic medalist is set to make Olympic history in Tokyo this year. This is the track and field star’s fifth Olympic appearance — and her first as a mom. If she wins a medal in just one of the three races she’s competing in, Felix could walk away from the games as the most decorated track and field athlete in history. Additionally, the 35-year-old is paying it forward by partnering with Athleta to give $200,000 to help provide child care for fellow athlete mothers who are traveling to compete.
Manuel made history when she became the first Black woman to win gold in an individual swimming event in 2016. Months after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, the two-time gold medalist put on a clutch performance at this year’s Olympic trials. Now she’s back to compete in the 50-meter freestyle in Tokyo.
Two years after being named the WNBA Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player in 2020, the Las Vegas Aces forward will be competing in her first Olympics this summer. As she prepares for this career milestone, she’s using her platform to speak out against racial and gender inequity in sports. “As Black women, we feel like we always have to be strong and independent, which is tough and wears on us a lot,” she told Insider. “I’m trying to be more vulnerable for the next generation of Black girls who see me on TV.”
She’s considered the G.O.A.T. for a reason. The five-time world champion consistently blows audiences and her competition away as she defies gravity and flies through the air with grace and power. In May, she became the first woman to land the difficult Yurchenko double pike vault, 18 months after her last competition before the pandemic. Tokyo will be her second Olympic appearance. She’s positioned to win as many as five gold medals at this year’s Games, which would make her tied for the most Olympic gold medals held by a female gymnast.
The 25-year-old sprinter will be defending her two gold medals in this year’s Paralympics. Young, who was born with a brachial plexus injury that caused nerve damage and limited mobility to her right shoulder, will compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter races in Tokyo, which will stretch from Aug. 27 to Sep. 5.
Ramsey stunned at the Olympic trials when she made shot put look easy by throwing at a crushing distance of 20.12 meters, a new meet record. The performance earned Ramsey her debut Olympic appearance, great redemption after not making the 2016 Games. Ramsey, 30, said her goal in Tokyo is to “come out with a gold medal and show all the girls, ‘Never give up, never give up, never give up. You’re gonna have those downfalls, but let it make you stronger.’”
Tapper will make her debut Olympic appearance in Tokyo this year on the USA women’s rugby team. The South Carolina native is the second all-time try scorer for the U.S. and often referred to as “the ultimate finisher.”
In 2016, Johnson became the first Black athlete to play for the U.S. Olympic water polo team. As the gold medalist gears up for Tokyo, Johnson will continue to blaze a trail as one of the world’s best goalkeepers. “Having the opportunity to represent as a Black woman in water polo is a very special opportunity,” she told NBC Miami ahead of the games. “Having grown through the sport and having lived the experience as a Black woman in a predominantly white space who is excelling and succeeding in spite of stereotypes and in spite of narratives and in spite of not seeing much representation from people who look like me. It’s really special to welcome that responsibility. I’m always happy to be a mirror for a young Black girl or a young Black boy to see themselves in.”
Tokyo will be the powerful hammer thrower’s second Olympic appearance. Berry finished third in the trials with a distance of 241 feet, 2 inches, but that isn’t the only reason she grabbed national attention. On June 26, she turned around during the singing of the national anthem, drawing criticism from political leaders, including Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) who called for Berry to be removed from the team.
This wasn’t the first time Berry, 31, has used her platform to make a statement, and she isn’t backing down. “I earned my right on that podium, I earned my right on the team,” she told Time. “I’m not saying I’m not proud to represent America. If anything, I am being extremely American by stating my rights. By exercising my constitutional right to say, I believe in freedom and justice for us all. And if I don’t see it, I have a right to peacefully protest until I see what I know America is capable of. I am protesting for America to be good for everybody. And just not for the elite or the white supreme.”