UPDATED: 3:30 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021
From Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ Black Power salute to Gabby Douglas becoming the first African American to win an individual gymnastics title, Black Americans have undeniably had some of the most iconic moments in Olympics history.
As the Tokyo Summer Olympics Games get set to kick off on Friday — one year late, thanks to the pandemic — that tradition is expected to be carried on, and then some with a number of Black Americans competing for Team USA in their respective spectrum of sports.
Since Team USA’s men’s basketball team — which is loaded with NBA players including Kevin Durant, widely regarded as the best player in the world — is already leaving a lot to desire during the warm-up games, we may need to turn elsewhere to witness iconic moments by Black Americans in the Olympics.
Luckily, there is no shortage of Olympic sports that can also produce those iconic moments.
And if history is any indication, one of those Black American Olympians is Simone Biles, who, as far as this writer can tell, is the only athlete in Tokyo with an eponymous trick that no one else can perform. That move is, of course, “The Simone Biles,” otherwise known as the Yurchenko double pike that she pulled out of her bag of tricks on her way to winning a gold medal at the U.S. Classic back in May. The most decorated gymnast in history performed it again to a tee during the Olympic trials last month.
The move will officially be named after her if she nails it in the Tokyo Olympics, which effectively would render it just as iconic if not more than the other moments that follow on the below list. Is anyone betting that it won’t happen?
We could get another iconic moment for Black Americans competing in the Olympics if track and field star Allyson Felix wins gold. Felix, who has won six gold medals and two silver medals since her Olympic debut in 2004 in Athens, will be competing in her fifth Olympic Games — an iconic moment in its own right. Not to be outdone, the 35-year-old mother of a 2-year-old daughter has teamed up with the apparel brand Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation to provide childcare grants for other mothers who are competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
That alone merits iconic status.
In the meantime, take a look at some of the other iconic and otherwise memorable moments from Black Americans competing at the Olympics through the years. And be sure to check back as we update this with new iconic moments in Tokyo.
1. Muhammad Ali Lights The Olympic Torch (1996)Source:Getty
Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest athletes of all time, was chosen to light the Olympic Flame during the Opening Ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
2. Simone Biles Wins Gold (2016)Source:Getty
Simone Biles was flawless on the beam during Day 12 of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 17, 2016.
3. Alice Coachman’s High Jump Win (1948)Source:Getty
In 1948, Alice Coachman became the first African American woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
4. Vince Carter Dunks Over 7-Foot Frenchman (2000)Source:Getty
Vince Carter of Team USA leaps over Frederic Weis of France to dunk during the Men’s Basketball Preliminaries on Day 10 of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
5. Gabby Douglas Makes Gymnastics History (2012)Source:Getty
At the London 2012 Olympics Gabby became the first African American woman (and first woman of color of any nationality) to win gold in the individual all-around competition in gymnastics.
6. The Dream Team (1992)Source:Getty
Arguably one of the best basketball teams that ever existed, the team’s roster included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and more. The team would go on to win the gold medal and never go below a 32 point differential in competition.
7. Black Power At The Mexico Olympics (1968)Source:Getty
Runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos would win gold and bronze in the 200m event and each hold a black fist in the air during the podium ceremony as the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, making it the most outwardly political statement at any Olympics ever.
8. Jackie Joyner-Kersee Overcomes Injury (1996)Source:Getty
Jackie Joyner-Kersee became the most awarded female athlete at the time when she won her sixth medal at the 1996 games. What is even more amazing is that she fought through injury and still won a bronze medal in the heptathlon.
9. USA Women’s Basketball Team Wins Seventh Gold (2012)Source:Getty
That’s right, the US women’s basketball team won their seventh gold medal in 2012. They have been unbeatable at every Olympics from 1996-2012.
10. Jesse Owens Crushes Hitler’s Aryan Supremacy (1936)Source:Getty
The 1936 Olympic games were to be a showcase of Aryan supremacy according to Hitler. Hitler and the Nazis did not plan for Jesse Owens to smash the competition and win four gold medals, the most of anyone at the games that year.
11. Carl Lewis Becomes A Legend (1996)Source:Getty
Carl won his final medal at the 1996 Olympic games in the long jump, giving him a career total of four gold medals in the one event and a career total of nine gold medals.
12. Gail Devers Overcomes Illness (1992)Source:Getty
Gail Devers was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 1990 but that didn’t stop her from chasing gold at the 1992 games where she won the 100m dash.
13. U.S. Boxing Team Brings Home Seven Medals (1976)Source:Getty
The team comprised of Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Leo Randolph and Howard Davis Jr. is considered to be one of the best boxing teams in Olympic history.
14. Michael Johnson Wins Double (1996)Source:Getty
Michael Johnson became the first athlete to win both the 200m and 400m.
15. John Taylor Becomes The First (1908)Source:Getty
John Taylor became the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympics by winning the 4×400.
16. Bob Hayes Makes History In The 100m (1964)Source:Getty
“Bullet Bob” won gold in the 100m and became the first to do it in under 10 seconds.
17. Dan O’Brien Comes Back (1996)Source:Getty
Dan O’Brien didn’t qualify for the 1992 Olympics. His determination prevailed when he won the gold medal in the decathlon in 1996.
18. U.S. Boxing Team Wins Big (1984)Source:Getty
The team won nine golds that year making them one of the most successful teams. The roster included future stars Meldrick Taylor and Pernell Whitaker.