Gabby Douglas made history in the 2012 London Olympics as the first African-American woman to become the individual all- around champion in gymnastics. Americans, black and white, thought there would never be another Gabby Douglas, and they were right.
In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Douglas was not the only African- American woman or African- American female gymnast to win the gold. This summer, female African-American Olympians Simone Biles, Simone Manuel
and The University of Southern Mississippi’s own Tori Bowie garnered positive attention from Americans and the media with their athleticism.
After NBC Olympic commentators compared Biles to male Olympic athletes,19-year- old first-time Olympian Biles, individual all-around vault and floor gold medalist, said, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
The media has compared Biles to her teammate Douglas, but Biles does not shy away from showing her love for Douglas. In an interview with The Root, Biles said she and Douglas were like sisters.
Douglas showed the same appreciation for Biles, saying she was glad to see more African- Americans performing gymnastics – a predominately white sport, according to The New Yorker.
“I think it’s amazing, because a lot of little girls don’t think they can do it, but if they see me and Simone, it gives them that little bit of hope that I think we had when we were younger,” Douglas said.
Twenty-year-old Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel inspired the masses by becoming the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming.
In past years, pools were segregated. The YMCA’s National Safety Around Water program Spokesperson Janet Wright said African-Americans were not allowed to swim in the ’40s or ’50s.
“If your grandparents didn’t know how to swim, then they didn’t teach your parents, and if your parents didn’t swim, then you might not be a swimmer,” Wright said.
In her post-race remarks, Manuel said winning meant a lot to her and that she hopes to be an inspiration to others.
“This medal is not just for me,” Manuel said. “It’s for some of the African-Americans who have come before me and been an inspiration. I hope I can be an inspiration to others, so this medal is for those who come behind
me and get into the sport and hopefully find the love and drive to get to this point.”
USM’s own track and field athlete Tori Bowie made the Golden Eagles proud when she claimed a gold medal in the 4×100 meter relay, silver in the 100-meter dash and bronze in the 200-meter dash.
Beginning her athletic career as a successful NCAA All American long jumper, she recently became a sprinter in 2014, inspired by other female runners.
“I got kind of motivated from watching these ladies,” Bowie said.
Four years later, Bowie is celebrated all around Mississippi, specifically at Southern Miss.
USM President Rodney Bennett boasted her success during Golden Eagle Welcome Week, telling incoming freshman, “You can be the next Olympian. We’re not black bears nor are we bulldogs; they stay on the ground. We are Golden Eagles, and we soar.”
The Rio Olympics have proven to be inspirational for all races. Simone Biles, Simone Manuel and Tori Bowie made history and dominated in their respective events, proving that representation, especially in predominantly white competitions, matters.