18 Black Athletes Who Made U.S. Olympic History

By BIN Staff

August 3, 2021

As team USA continues to make history in Tokyo, we're celebrating the Black Olympians who made and are making Olympic history in their respective sports.

Keep scrolling to check out 18 history-making Black athletes!

1. Simone Biles

Gymnastics

Photo: Getty Images

At just 24 years old, Simone Biles made Olympic history at the 2020 Tokyo Games, becoming the most accomplished American gymnast in history with seven medals, including four golds.

2. Muhammad Ali

Boxing

Photo: Getty Images

Before the world came to know him as Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay emerged as an Olympic darling. In 1960, he traveled to Rome and won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division. Just four years later, Ali went on to defeat Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship. After spending twenty years in the ring fighting legends like Joe Frazier and George Foreman, Ali was invited to light the Olympic torch at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

3. Zion Wright

Skateboarding

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Zion Wright is the first Black skateboarder to compete in the Summer Olympics. The inaugural US team made their debut at the Tokyo games with Florida native Wright among them. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Wright described the lack of diversity in the sport and what he hopes to achieve. 

“I can say as far as the whole Black community and skateboarding, it’s just growing and it’s just going to only get bigger and bigger as far as our youth that’s coming up,” he said.

4. Ashleigh Johnson
Water Polo

Photo: Getty Images

Princeton University alumna Ashleigh Johnson made history in 2016, becoming the first Black woman to make the US Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team. Johnson, a native of Florida, plays goalkeeper in the sport and helped secure the gold medal at the Olympics in Rio. 

“When I was younger, I got questions from other kids in the sport, parents, and even strangers, asking questions like, ‘Can Black people float?’ or ‘Black people don’t swim, how come you know how?’” Johnson told the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum. 

“Questions like these and other similar things that weren‘t as direct but meant the same thing and implied I didn’t belong and people like me didn’t belong.” 

The water polo champion returned to the Olympics in Tokyo this year.

5. Paige McPherson
Taekwondo

Photo: Getty Images

Paige McPherson is the first American woman to compete in the Olympic games in taekwondo. The 30-year-old Afro-Filipino taekwondo champion won bronze at the 2021 Olympics in London. After losing her opening fight in the 2016 Rio games, McPherson waited a year to travel to Tokyo to redeem her medal-winning record.

6. Constantin Henriquez

Rugby

Haitian rugby player Constantin Henriquez, born in the late 1870s, is known as the first Black athlete to compete in a modern Olympic tournament. Henriquez is also credited with being the first Black athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. 

Henriquez studied medicine in France in the early 1890s before competing in a three-country tournament between France, Germany, and England in October 1900. 

According to World Rugby, Henriquez is rumored to have brought rugby and other sports back to Haiti where he was elected the first president of the Haitian Olympic Committee in 1906 and again in 1912.

7. Alice Coachman Davis

Track and Field

Photo: Getty Images

At the 1948 Olympics, Alice Coachman became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Coachman attended Tuskegee University and later Albany State University and won the gold medal after setting a world record in the high jump event.

Coachman was born in Albany, Georgia in 1923 and went on to support younger athletes through the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation.

8. Teresa Edwards

Basketball

Photo: Getty Images

Olympic basketball champion Teresa Edwards made history in the games, becoming both the youngest and oldest woman to win a gold medal in basketball in 1984 at the age of 20 and in 2000 at the age 36, respectively.

The Cairo, Georgia native is also the only woman in basketball to win five Olympic medals –– four of which are gold. In 2000, Edwards was named as No. 22 on Sports Illustrated’s “100 Greatest Female Athletes of the 20th Century.”

9. Simone Manuel

Swimming

Photo: Getty Images

At the age of 19, Simone Manuel celebrated as she won her first gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. At that moment, Manuel did not just represent herself. She represented millions of other Black women in the past, present and future as the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. At the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, she won bronze for the women's 4x100m freestyle relay.

10. Ibtihaj Muhammad

Fencing

Photo: Getty Images

Five years ago, Ibtihaj Muhammad made history as the first woman to wear a hijab while representing the United States in the Olympics. While doing so, Ibtihaj Muhammad earned a bronze medal in the Women's Individual Sabre.

11. Claressa Shields

Boxing

Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this year, Claressa Shields became the first boxer to hold undisputed titles in two weight classes. With that said, Shields is no stranger to making history. She is currently the only U.S. boxer to win two Olympic gold medals in two different Summer Olympic Games. Although she has broken through as an attraction in professional boxing, she has moved to mixed martial arts. As more and more figures push for mixed martial arts to become an Olympic sport, Shields may try to seek a third Olympic medal in Paris or Los Angeles.

12. Shani Davis

Speed Skating

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In 2006, Shani Davis became the first African-American athlete to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Winter Olympic Games. He has also won a silver medal in the 1500 meter speed skating event. Four years later, Davis returned to the Winter Olympic Games to successfully defend his 1000-meter Olympic title.

13. Gabby Douglas
Gymnastics

Photo: Getty Images

Gabby Douglas made spectators’ heads turn at the 2012 London Games. That year, she became the first U.S. woman to win individual all-around and team gold medals in the same Games. The impressive gymnast continued to dazzle at the 2016 Rio Games, where she was part of the “Final Five” group that won team gold.

14. Florence Griffith-Joyner
Track and Field

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This track star was considered the fastest woman in the world. Florence Griffith-Taylor captured the world’s attention by setting the 100-meter and 200-meter world records at the 1988 Seoul Games. She had five Olympic medals to her name.

15. George Coleman Poage
Track and Field

Another Black track star, George Coleman Poage paved the way for most Black athletes with his historic win at the 1904 St. Louis Games. He overcame racial discrimination to become the first Black American to win an Olympic medal. He got bronze in both the 220-yard and 440-yard hurdles.

16. Jesse Owens
Track and Field

Photo: Getty Images

Jesse Owens was a track and field superstar during his lifetime. Not only did he secure four medals at the 1936 Berlin Games in Nazi Germany, but he also dispelled their ideologies about white supremacy. To this day, the athlete is still regarded as one of the most famous track and field athletes in history.

17. Vonetta Flowers
Bobsled

Photo: Getty Images

Vonetta Flowers is a two-time Olympic competitor, and she made history at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. There, she became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal. She was partnered with Jill Bakken in the two-woman bobsled competition.

18. Elana Meyers Taylor
Bobsled

Photo: Getty Images

This Winter Games veteran has two honors to her name. Elana Meyers Taylor became the first U.S. athlete to win medals as both a driver and a brakewoman in bobsledding. Taylor was also the first U.S. woman to win a world title in 2015.

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