It’s official: The 2016 Rio Olympic Games have claimed their space in black history.
For some black Olympians this year, the road to Rio has been a tumultuous one. But these athletes, like many others, have sacrificed sweat, blood and tears to earn distinguished triumph. They’ve defeated the odds, broken barriers and set records in their journey to success ― many of which have earned them prestigious gold medals, some even in predominantly white sports, like swimming.
It’s time, then, to get acquainted with these incredible black athletes and all they’ve accomplished at this year’s Olympic Games.
Simone Manuel: Team USA, Swimming
Simone Manuel, 20, made history on Aug. 11 when she became the first black woman to earn a gold medal in individual swimming. Manuel, who is from Houston, Texas, tied for the top place medal with Canadian Penny Oleksiak.
Manuel burst into tears following her epic win and acknowledged just how much the emotional victory meant to her and millions around the world. It’s a significant win, especially considering swimming’s racist past. “This medal is not just for me,” she said in an interview following her epic win. “It’s for all the people who believe they can’t do it.”
Simone Biles: Team USA, Gymnastics
Simone Biles is a formidable force on Team USA’s majority-minority Olympic gymnastics group this year. At 19-years-old, Biles has distinguished herself as the world’s most dominant gymnast. Her accolades are astounding: She is the only woman to win world championships for three consecutive years. She arrived in Rio undefeated in all the gymnastic meets she’s competed in since 2013.
Biles has generated excitement from people around the country, and the world, who recognize her unbridled success and have praised her powerful performances. After all, she is the epitome of Black Girl Magic and a truly incomparable athlete: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she told Sporting News after accepting her second gold medal. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Gabby Douglas: Team USA, Gymnastics
Gabby Douglas made headlines during the 2012 London Olympics when she won gold and became the first African-American to win the individual all-around title. Now, she’s continuing her legacy at this year’s Rio Olympics where she helped Team USA win gold in gymnastics. Although she’ll be unable to defend her title in the all-around finals, Douglass still played a critical role in the team’s success this year.
Douglas has soared despite being subjected to unfair public scrutiny of her actions and appearance. However, her sense of perseverance and confidence are well-admired. “I have these challenges and circumstances and for me I love it,” she told The Huffington Post in a previous interview. “It determines if I’m going to give in, give up or push that limit and achieve my goal.”
Daryl D. Homer: Team USA, Fencing
Daryl Homer made a historic win for Team USA on Aug. 9 when he was awarded the silver medal in men’s sabre fencing, becoming the first American (and by default the first African-American) to take home the award in 112 years. Homer, who said he became fascinated with fencing at 5 years old and competed in the 2012 London Olympics, has fought relentlessly to make his country and fans proud.
That was a mission he accomplished after months of intense practice in a sport that is perceived to be dominated by white athletes. However, Homer said Peter Westbrook, a black Olympic fencer who scored the bronze medal in the controversial 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, motivated him to achieve success and high honor in the sport. “I wouldn’t have found an access point to fencing without Peter, so I probably wouldn’t have been here,” Homer told USA Today.
Carmelo Anthony: Team USA, Men’s Basketball
Carmelo Anthony broke a big record on Aug. 11 when he became America’s all-time leading scorer in basketball in the Olympics. Anthony, who represented Team USA, scored 293 points in total and claimed victory in the Olympic game against Australia. His performance surpassed a record once held by LeBron James, whose Olympic tally stands at 262 points.
He has set records that will be difficult for any athlete to break: This is Anthony’s fourth Olympics and he already has three Olympic gold medals and is considered by some to be the greatest-ever U.S. Olympic men’s basketball player. “I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career,” he told ESPN.
Rafaela Silva: Team Brazil, Judo
Rafaela Silva is now an international star. On Aug. 8, Silva won the gold medal in the 57-kilogram division for women’s judo. It was an honor she accepted with tears in her eyes as she claimed Brazil’s first gold medal at the Rio Olympics. But it was also an accomplishment that came after much personal adversity.
As a black woman born in one of Brazil’s impoverished favelas, Silva constantly combatted heavy racism from residents who still uphold a strong anti-black sentiment. “She has faced countless obstacles, injustices, and oppression in her young life,” one HuffPost blogger wrote in a piece published on HuffPost Brazil. “But the judo athlete showed incredible courage to overcome everything on her way to a win gold in her hometown’s Olympic Games.”
Almaz Ayana: Team Ethiopia, Track and Field
Ethiopian runner Almaz Ayana broke two records during one match on Aug. 12 when she set new highs for both the Olympic and world records in the 10,000-meter race in Rio.
Ayana, who represents Ethiopia in the Rio Olympics, finished the race in superb timing, which left many around the world astounded by her athleticism. Even sports commentators who watched her performance in real-time were in awe: “I cannot believe what I am witnessing here,” one NBC commentator said. “What we have witnessed is one the finest athletic achievements we’ve ever seen.”
Ibtihaj Muhammad: Team USA, Fencing
Ibtihaj Muhammad shattered stereotypes when she represented Team USA in this year’s Olympics and became the first American athlete to compete while wearing a hijab, which is the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Muhammad, who is black female fencer, did not win gold in the women’s individual sabre fencing competition but she did win the hearts of millions of people around the world who admire the work she has done to dispel myths around Muslim women. “In this particular political climate in the history of this country, it is groundbreaking to have a Muslim woman on the U.S. team,” she previously told BBC. “I am excited to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Muslim women.”
Michelle Carter: Team USA, Shot Put
Michelle Carter is a self-proclaimed “diva,” a certified professional makeup artist and the first American woman to win the gold medal in shot put. Carter even beat her father’s record, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and placed silver in the men’s competition.
For Carter, winning the gold medal means everything. As a full-figured athlete, Carter said she constantly combats criticism from others who ridicule her size. But she has a strong feminist message for the haters: “I’m in a sport where people don’t look at us like women, they don’t look at us like being girls, or feminine,” Carter said. “But I’ve been girly all my life and so I couldn’t separate... between the sport and being a woman.”
Usain Bolt: Team Jamaica, Track & Field
Usain Bolt proved he is still the fastest man in the world when he took home the gold medal on Aug. 12 in the 100-meter men’s dash. For Bolt, an 11-time world champion, this win marks his third consecutive gold medal at the Olympics.
Bolt announced that this year’s Olympics will be his last but, his athleticism has earned him prestige that will allow his legacy to live forever. “I have done everything, and have proven myself,” he said during a press conference following his latest win. Indeed he has.
Elaine Thompson: Team Jamaica, Track & Field
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson took home the gold medal in the women’s 100m race after beating the two-time defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce by .25 seconds. Fraser-Pryce took home the bronze medal.
The two women celebrated each other’s achievements and are proud of the recognition they brought to their home country. “Jamaica has so many talented sprinters,” Thompson said after her epic win. “To be the second champion, I’m really happy.”
Kristi Castlin, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali: Team USA, Track & Field
Three black women made a historic win on Aug. 17 when they took home the top awards at the Women’s 100m Olympic Hurdle. American runners Kristi Castlin, Nia Ali and Brianna Rollins were awarded the bronze, silver and gold medals, respectively, marking a truly unforgettable moment (and photo) from the Olympics.
Claressa Shields: Team USA, Boxing
Claressa Shields broke barriers in boxing when she was crowned as a two-time gold medal Olympic champion on Aug. 21. Shields, who is from Flint, Michigan, earned the gold medal both at this year’s Olympics and at the 2012 London Olympics.
Shields celebrated the moment by recognizing how much her triumph means to her and millions of other women of color around the world. “Black women doing great things is magic,” she said, according to Reuters. “People don’t seem to expect much from black females, or females period, so that the fact I can be so dominant in a male-dominated sport means a lot.”
Allyson Felix: Team USA, Track & Field
Allyson Felix is America’s most decorated Olympic runner. On Aug. 20, Felix set a world record when she earned her sixth gold medal in track and field.
“It’s really special,” Felix said according to Reuters. “I can look back on the things that I’ve accomplished and really be proud and really grateful for what track and field has brought to my life.”
Dalilah Muhammad: Team USA, Track & Field
American track and field star Dalilah Muhammad made history on Aug. 19 when she became the first woman in U.S. history to win the gold medal in the Women’s 400m hurdle.
Muhammad, who is Muslim, spoke about how much her victory means to her and millions Muslims around the world. “I’m proud to be part of the Muslim community, so it’s definitely amazing,” Muhammad told The Undefeated. “Muslims out there representing for the United States.”