Top 10 Black Moments at the Tokyo Olympics
Black excellence around the diaspora was on display at this year's delayed Games
The 2021 Olympics is over — sniff, sniff, — and though it was a strange and unprecedented Games in Tokyo, athletic achievement couldn’t be denied. The USA once again led the medal count of overall medals and gold medals over second-place China, but the real story of these Games was the perseverance of the athletes from all over the African diaspora and the dominance of the female competitors. Here are the top 10 Black Olympic moments.
1. Simone Biles
The all-time gymnastic G.O.A.T. was expected to be one of the biggest stars of the Olympics. However, Biles soon changed the game. She paved the way for athletes to be able to be honest about the physical and mental challenges they face. The 24-year-old Texan has accomplished every individual accolade the sport has to offer.
She left Tokyo with a respectable silver in the team competition and a bronze on beam in the individual apparatus finals after pulling out of the competition early due to the “twisties,” which affects a gymnast’s sense of where they are in the air. Biles allowed her teammates to shine, and put a spotlight on mental health that will likely help other athletes in the future. By doing this, she achieved an even more elite status that only few of the most courageous athletes can match.
Watch Biles’ bronze medal beam performance HERE.
2. Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad
“Iron sharpens iron,” American hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, 21, says of her friendly rivalry with Dalilah Muhammad, 31. The two competitors have lived that saying by setting world records in the 400m hurdles almost every time they’re on a big stage together. Muhammad, from Queens, N.Y., was the world record holder and reigning Olympic gold medalist until McLaughlin, from New Brunswick, N.J., broke that record in the Olympic trials and then again, while winning gold in the Olympic final in Tokyo.
The two are competitors but seem genuinely happy for each other. They walk away with two medals apiece (silver and gold for Muhammad, gold and gold for McLaughlin) after competing together on the victorious 4×400 relay team, winning the race with Allyson Felix in her last Olympics and Athing Mu, in her first.
Watch Muhammad and McLaughlin in the world record 400m hurdles Olympic final HERE.
3. Elaine Thompson-Herah and Team Jamaica
Usain Bolt’s shadow weighed heavily over Team Jamaica as it failed to medal in the 100 and 200 meters at all. But the bright spot for Jamaica was the dominance of Elaine Thompson-Herah, who will head home to the island nation with three gold medals around her neck. Thompson-Herah is the first woman to accomplish the feat of winning the 100 and 200m races in two consecutive Olympic Games.
She also broke Florence Griffith Joyner’s Olympic record in the 100, setting a mark of 10.61, and is now second-fastest ever since Flo Jo in both events. The good sis may also be the only two-time, two-event Olympic champion who changed her hair color from one race to the next. (Black women can do it all!) Thompson-Herah scored her second gold with Shelly-Ann Newby Fraser, Briana Williams and Shericka Jackson, who burned up the track to a victory in the 4×100 relay final.
4. Andre DeGrasse
Canadian sprinter Andre DeGrasse may have finished second to Bolt in the Rio Olympics, but not until after this viral moment in the 200 meters. But now the former USC star has his first gold on the Olympic stage in the 200 meters. DeGrasse, 26, takes home three Olympic medals from Tokyo — a gold in the 200, a bronze in the 100 and a bronze in the 4×100 relay, which was only possible due to his blistering speed as Team Canada had fallen off the pace.
He’s the first Canadian sprint gold medalist since Donovan Bailey in 1996. DeGrasse was an accidental track star who started out playing basketball. He may not even be the best athlete in his family — his wife, Nia Ali, was a Olympic silver medalist in the 110 hurdles in Rio.
Watch AndreDeGrasse win the 200m HERE.
5. Tamyra Mensah-Stock
The daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, Tamyra Mensah-Stock grew up near Houston, Texas. After being bullied by her teammates in track and field in high school, Mensah-Stock, 28, turned to wrestling. In Tokyo, she won a gold medal in the 68k finals, defeating Nigeria’s Blessing Oborududu 4-1, to become the second woman and the first African American woman to medal in Olympic wrestling.
Watch Tamyra’s gold-medal winning match HERE.
6. Neisi Patricia Dajomes Barrera
Niesi Patricia Dajomes Barerra was one of the Olympics’ fiercest competitors and her intensity paid off as she became the first woman to win a medal for Ecuador. Barrera, 23, won gold in the women’s 76kg weightlifting competition.
Her third clean and jerk, at first ruled not held long enough, was overruled as a completion and Barrera screamed with joy once the win was confirmed. “I feel very happy and very proud,” Dajomes Barrera told the assembled media through an interpreter. “I guess the training regimen gave me strength and made me feel comfortable at the competition.”
Watch Berrera’s historic win HERE.
7. Athing Mu
In her first Olympic Games, 19-year-old Athing Mu made history by winning the gold in the 800m. She is the first American woman to win that distance since Madeline Manning Mims did in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Mu actually spoke to Mims when she was 14, telling the Olympic champ she wanted to be just like her one day. That goal has been attained for the Trenton, N.J. middle-distance runner whose parents emigrated from South Sudan. Mu, who went pro after attending Texas A&M, also takes home a second gold after anchoring the 4×100 relay.
8. Lamont Marcell Jacobs
Born in El Paso, Texas to an American serviceman and an Italian mother, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Jr was raised by his mother in Italy and gained some recognition in track and field. But if you had predicted that he would leave the Olympics as a two-time gold medalist, there’s no telling anyone in the U.S. or Italy would have believed you. Jacobs, 26, can now claim the title of the fastest man in the world as he won the 100 meters with a time of 9.80.
“No. It’s incredible,” he told the media. “My really dream is to arrive here and run a final. And we run a final, and we win a final. It’s amazing. I have no words to describe this moment. I think I need four or five years to realize and understand what’s happening. It’s amazing. It’s really incredible.”
Thanks to his own speed and his determined teammate, Fillipo Tortu, running down Great Britain’s Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Jacobs also won a gold in 4×100 relay, ending a historic run for Italy in track and field in the Games.
Watch Jacobs win his 100m gold HERE.
8. Team USA Basketball
Track and field may be a little shaky for the US these days and women’s soccer went home with a bronze this year, but one thing you can count on is the USA’s domination in basketball. More so than even the heralded men, led by Kevin Durant, who brought home the gold after a slow start, the women’s team has been a dominant dynasty since taking gold in 1996.
With Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, and A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces dominating this year’s games, they’ve now won seven straight Olympic titles and have not lost since Atlanta — a 55-game win streak. Dawn Staley, who was one of the gold medal winners in 1996, is now the first Black female head coach to bring home the gold for Team USA.
9. Allyson Felix
In her last Olympics, Allyson Felix will go into the record books with her final bronze medal in the 400m and a gold in the relay, becoming the most awarded Olympic athlete in track and field history. The 100, 200 and 400m specialist went to her fifth Olympic games just after she and her husband welcomed her daughter, Camryn in 2018.
Felix, 35, went out on a high note with a gold in the 4 x 400m relay with teammates Mu, Muhammad and McLaughlin. Felix will also be known for standing up for mothers who are athletes. Before the games, she revealed that Nike was going to decrease the money in her contract with them when she became pregnant.
10. Sifan Hassan and Nafi Thiam
Senegalese/Belgian heptathlete Nafissatou ‘Nafi’ Thiam may be the most accomplished female athlete you never heard of until the Tokyo Olympics. She is now the two-time Olympic champion in the heptathlon, tying American Jackie Joyner Kersee‘s run of dominance in the event. Thiam, 26, was also the 2017 world champ in the heptathlon, the female version of the decathlon, where competitors must amass the top score through seven events to win: javelin, long jump, 110m hurdles, shot put, 800m run, 200m run and the high jump.
As impressive as that feat is, Ethiopian-born Sifan Hassan, running for the Netherlands, competed in three of the most grueling events in track and field in this Olympics. She ran the 1500m, the 5000m, and the 10,000m races, claiming a gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 and a bronze in the 1500. And she did so in Tokyo’s unrelenting heat and humidity and after falling during a qualifying race for the 1500 and dealing with a leg injury.
“I have trained every single moment thinking about this for four years,” the 26-year-old said, as reported per the New York Times.
Most Courageous: Raven Saunders
While we focused this piece on the top 10 of athletic achievements, Raven “Hulk” Saunders must be mentioned. After her silver-winning medal performance in the shot put, while accepting her medal, she briefly raised her hands in an X. Though she didn’t call it a protest, the openly gay athlete said that the gesture was meant to symbolize “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”
The gesture did appear to be in defiance of the International Olympics Committee, which has banned any athlete protest at the Games. The IOC said they would investigate to see if Saunders broke any rules, but that investigation was suspended when Saunders, 25, a Charleston, South Carolina native, revealed her mother, Clarissa Saunders, had suddenly passed away after seeing her daughter’s silver medal-winning performance.
Watch Saunders’ silver-medal winning performance HERE.
Black excellence all the way. Look for more of it in three years when the Olympics comes to Paris, France in 2024. Congrats to all!
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