As a dark-skinned black woman, I don't get to see myself positively represented in the media nearly enough. But when I started watching the 2016 Olympics in Rio this summer, I was floored by how much black girl magic I saw in so many different events. Watching Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas flawlessly execute impossible moves with giant smiles on their faces was just the beginning of enjoying the many black women athletes at the Olympics who are absolutely killing it this year.
All of the women represented below are true inspirations, especially to black women like me. They are doing the impossible — both as athletes and as young women. What I also love about them is that they put a positive spin to the "strong black woman" stereotype. Physically, these women literally are strong — they have muscular, healthy, athletic bodies, and are being portrayed in a positive light for the world to see.
So, without further ado, here are eight black female athletes who are absolutely dominating the Olympics for Team USA this year. We can't wait to see how how far these women go, and appreciate the representation they bring to the media and young black girls everywhere!
1. Simone Manuel
The 20-year-old Simone “Swimone” Manuel is the girl with the big smile, the one that Missy Franklin has called "fearless" — and on Thursday, she became the one who made history, becoming the first black female swimmer to win an individual gold medal.
Manuel is a Stanford student who swam for the team her freshman year and won two NCAA individual titles in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles. Manuel started training for the Olympics by "redshirting," which meant she could train with her Stanford team but couldn’t compete with them. At the 2015 NCAA Championships, she was one of three black women to make the podium in the 100-yard freestyle, the first time that has ever happened. Manuel says she hopes to bring diversity to the sport of swimming — and she certainly has.
2. Tina Charles
This gifted center won gold in the 2012 Olympics, but perhaps what really sets her apart is the way she uses her talents and big heart off the court. She's OmniPeace’s first sports ambassador and donated half — yes, half — of her WNBA salary in 2014-2015 to Hopey’s Heart Foundation. She's also an outspoken activist for the Black Lives Matter Movement, and donated $32,000 to build a school in Mali. Not only does she walk the walk but she talks the talk, making Tina Charles a huge inspiration to women everywhere. You can find the times to watch her play here.
3. Claressa Shields
The London 2012 Olympics was actually the first time that women's boxing was implemented into the Olympics. In came Flint, Michigan, native and newcomer, Claressa Shields, who at only 17 became the first American woman to win a gold medal in the sport. At 21, she has won almost every single time, with an impressive 74-1 record.
Shields started boxing at the age of 11, after her father took her to a local gym to see other fighters in action and tell her stories of Laila Ali’s victories in the ring. Growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in America left Shields feeling angry, and she says rarely talked to anyone. But after finding boxing, things started to change for the better. She cites her coach, Jason Crutchfield, as acting like a father to her; feeding her, getting her up to run, taking her back and forth to school, and helping her chase the Olympic dream. Shields was 16 and the youngest boxer in her field when she won three straight bouts at the first U.S. Women’s Boxing Team trials.
Shields has been vocal about the lack of endorsements and financial opportunities offered to her after her gold medal win in 2012. But in the 2016 Olympics, she is finally getting more recognition for her accomplishments. You can watch her box on Aug. 17.
4. Simone Biles
You know her name by now. Simone Biles is every gymnast’s dream. Just 19 years old, the 4-foot-8 Biles was a year too young to compete in the 2012 Olympics but is now competing in the 2016 Olympics to earn the gold for both herself and Team USA. She even has her own signature move, “The Biles,” which only she has ever completed fully each time. With her body fully extended, she does a double layout flip with an added half-twist before a blind landing. She's been called "unbeatable."
On a personal level, Biles loves sparkles, collects turtles, and obsesses over the Kardashians and Zac Efron. She works hard and plays hard, usually training five to six hours a day, and travels with a mini statue of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, everywhere she goes. After retiring from gymnastics, Biles says she would love to be a nurse. We're sure she'll slay at that too.
5. Lia Neal
The 21-year-old Lia Neal is a Stanford University student, a member of the Stanford Cardinal swim team, not to mention a bronze medal winner from the 2012 Olympics. Neal is of black and Chinese-American descent; she is fluent in both English and Cantonese, and is currently studying Mandarin. The Brooklyn native started swimming at 6 years old and says she loves focusing on her technique and finding ways to improve it. It's worked: She helped Team USA take the silver at the Women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay this week.
6. Gabby Douglas
The now 20-year-old Gabby Douglas won America’s hearts in 2012 when she became the first black gymnast, male or female, to win gold in the individual all-around event. This year, she came back to do it all, helping Team USA win the gold.
Douglass also stars in her own Oxygen reality TV show, Douglas Family Gold, has her own Barbie doll, and starred in a Lifetime movie about herself. The superstar has even written two books, Grace, Gold and Glory: My Leap of Faith, and Raising the Bar. She also has her own emoji called the Gabbymoji. Life goals for sure.
7. Ashleigh Johnson
The 21-year-old Jamaican-born Ashleigh Johnson is a 6-foot-1 powerhouse. Not only is she the first black woman to compete on the U.S. Olympic Water Polo team, she attends and plays for Princeton University and was a part of the 2015 World Aquatics Championships winning team, taking home gold for the United States.
She has been called the future of water polo, but her career nearly started by accident. When her mother bought a house with a pool, she worried that her three children would not be safe around it, so she immediately signed them up for swim lessons at a local community center in Miami. After a free water polo session was taught there, Johnson fell in love with the sport.
From then on, Johnson has become on the the top goalkeepers on the U.S. women’s water polo senior national team. She is recognized internationally, and has won many awards including the 2013 FINA Junior World Championships and the 2014 FINA World Cup, where the U.S. won gold both times. Johnson is the only black player to be on a U.S. senior national water polo team since the early 2000s. She was heavily recruited to play water polo by many schools but ultimately chose Princeton, where she began to pursue a degree in psychology, focusing on childhood psychopathology. You can find the schedule to watch her play here.
8. Maya Moore
Maya Moore is a forward on the U.S. Women’s Basketball team who has won an Olympic gold medal, world championship gold, an NCAA title, a WNBA championship, and an ESPY this year for being the best WNBA player of the year.
She’s even gone toe-to-toe with President Barack Obama in some shooting games — and (obviously) won. She’s visited the White House so many times during her time at University of Connecticut that she jokes she should have “her own toothbrush and wing.” Moore is the first female basketball player to sign with Michael Jordan’s brand, and as an activist, she has partnered with the END IT Movement to shine a light on the modern slavery of sex trafficking. Moore’s success as a basketball star and dedication to improving the lives of others is truly golden. Find the schedule to watch her play here.