Many strides have been taken in the sports world since the 20th century. Toward the beginning of sports, competition was mostly a man’s game or only a man’s job to compete.
Women have changed the landscape though. Women slowly but surely became the stars of the show whether it was in track, swimming or various others. But there was another factor that people had to overcome in the world of sports — race.
Since 1878, sports have featured black people. John W. “Bud” Fowler was the first black player in organized professional baseball, Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first black man to play professional baseball in the Major Leagues, and Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were the first black woman to be picked for the Olympic games.
In 2012 Gabby Douglas became the first black woman in Olympic history to win individual all-around gymnastics champion. She was also the first American gymnast to win the gold in both all-around and team competition at the London Olympic Games.
However, Douglas wasn’t the first person to achieve something of this stature in the gymnastics world. Dianne Durham set the stones rolling after she became the first black woman to win the 1983 National Gymnastics Championships title.
Then came Dominique Dawes, and she was known for her membership of the Magnificent Seven at the 1996 Olympic Games when her team won the gold medal. Dawes was also a part of the U.S. team that won the bronze in 1992 and 2000.
After Douglas’ achievements in 2012, not only did she compete again in the 2016 Olympics, but a new set of standards were made. Simone Biles won the individual all-around, vault and floor gold medal as a part of the “Final Five” gold medal team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In doing so, she became the most decorated American gymnast with 17 medals.
During an interview with Halicize, Wendy Hilliard, a former gymnast who started the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, a nonprofit organization, said that when she looks at Douglas and Biles, she knows that it’s not a one time thing for them going to the Olympics.
“Gabby didn’t come from the traditional two-parent family that a lot of people come from,” Hilliard said. “She gave a lot of hope. On top of that, Simone is an incredible athlete. Anyone will tell you she’s kind of special.”
University of Utah gymnast Kari Lee said that these girls have paved the way for minorities in gymnastics in the U.S. Lee explained that both Douglas and Biles have a lot of power, and with both of them being all-around Olympic champions, it shows that they don’t have limits. She thinks race plays no factor into how successful they can be.
“They bring a different kind of energy to the sport,”Lee said. “It is great that they are able to just go out there and do what they do so great while being a minority. I don’t consider them a minority at all. I think it is so great that they are able to come out and show them who’s boss.”
Not only have Douglas and Biles shown their strength, they also have provided a sense of role model leadership to those who want to be just like them. Alexis Page was a member of the rhythmic junior and senior national team from 2009 to 2012, and she was the only black woman when she competed on the national team. In another interview with Halicize, Page mentioned that she only knew a handful of black girls who made it to the national level like her, and she feels that more role models in the sport of gymnastics would help, whether it be in the coaches or on TV.
“The Olympics team is so diverse,” Page said. “It’s showing kids that anyone can do gymnastics. Kids need those role models to know they can achieve something.”