Empower Magazine takes a look back at the history-making moments from the 2016 Olympics in Rio through the eyes of contributing columnist, Jasmine Smarr.
“That’s going to be me in a few years,” my 12-year-old sister told me while watching the 2016 Rio Olympics. While some say it, she lives by it. Ranked 6th in UAGTCA’s 2016 Youth Invitational in the 400- and 800-meters, she is not only dedicated to her craft but a student of sport. She watches her races countless times thinking of strategies to improve her 64.37 in the 400-meters. As a former championship collegiate athlete myself, my brother and I often take credit for my sister’s competitive edge. However, it is her will, self-determination, and idols Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross, that have impacted her at a young age.
Whether one was inspired by Allyson Felix the way my sister is or by Simon Biles’ floor routine or Michelle Carter’s strength, one thing is for certain, the Olympic games in Rio was the year black women showed up and showed out in impressive numbers. The ladies made team USA proud as they racked up 48 medals among the 36 African-American competitors in nine events.
In case you missed it, here is what went down:
In the midst of the scrutiny the country has faced, we recognize the accolades of Allyson Felix as the most decorated female Olympian. We highlight the achievements of Simone Manuel as the first African-American woman to medal in swimming in an individual event. We celebrate the Olympic milestones of Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin as three of the world’s fastest 100-meter hurdlers. We lift our hands in victory with the first American boxer to win consecutive gold medals in women’s middle 75k, Claressa Shields.
For athletes such as Dalilah Muhammad, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Ashleigh Johnson, and “Shot Put Diva,” Michelle Carter, the Olympics are not only about showcasing their talents but also redefining the image of the sport and eliminating stereotypes. Dalilah Muhammad is the first U.S. woman to win gold in the 400-meter hurdles. Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim American to not only compete in her hijab, but also receive a bronze medal in sabre fencing. African-American women’s water polo goalie, Johnson, is among one of the youngest Olympians to win a gold medal at 21-years-old. In true diva fashion, with her red lip-gloss and painted nails, Carter defeated her competition to obtain the gold medal in shot put.
Built on talent, trained to perform, and designed to execute, the U.S. Women’s National Basketball team and 4×400 meter relay team have proven to be arguably the two greatest Olympic teams – each winning their 6th consecutive gold medal.
Since 1996, pioneers such as Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoops, and Dawn Staley, have established the gold standard, in which, for current players Tina Charles, Brittney Griner, Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Angel McCoughtry, and Tamika Catchings, the tradition will continue.
With the combination of veterans such as Allyson Felix, Francena McCorory, and Natasha Hastings, rookies Phyllis Francis, Taylor Ellis-Watson, and Courtney Okolo, became the latest additions to the unstoppable women’s 4×400 meter relay team.
Fueled by the relentless drive to succeed, Venus Williams, long jumper, Brittney Reese, and the U.S. Women’s 4×100 meter relay team, define mental toughness and what it means to overcome adversity.
It is without question that the William’s sisters have solidified their positions as the greatest sibling duo. In spite of Sjogren’s disease, and an early round exit in singles and doubles, Venus Williams tallied her fifth Olympic medal, winning silver in mixed doubles. In 2013, reigning Olympic long-jump champion, Brittney Reese, suffered a torn hip labrum, shortly after becoming the second woman in U.S. history to win a gold medal in long jump. Less than four years after her injury, Reese, returned to the Olympics where she placed second in long jump.
Prior to defeating Jamaica in one of the most anticipated races in Olympic history, Morolake Akinosun, Ariana Washington, English Gardner, and Allyson Felix, found themselves awaiting the verdict of an appeal for disqualification. The Olympic committee granted the teams requests and allowed them to compete in a timed trial, in which they beat 42.70 seconds to qualify for the final. Long Jump gold medalist and first leg, Tianna Bartoletta, and 100-meter silver medalist and 200-meter bronze medalist, Tori Bowie, helped lead the team to victory with a time of 41.01 seconds.
It is without question that the millennials of the Olympics showed why they are our future. Gymnast, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles were gold medal recipients in team all-around. At 19-years-old, Biles is already becoming known as “the world’s greatest female gymnast,” with her gold medals in vault, individual all-around, floor, and one bronze medal in beam. Bronze medalist, Ashley Spencer, continues to emerge as a game changer in 400-meter hurdles. Number one ranked U.S. Women’s National Volleyball players, Alisha Glass, Rachel Adams, and Foluke Akinradewo, were able to overcome a semi-final defeat and bring home a bronze medal. Lia Neal and Simone Manuel teamed up to lead the U.S. to a silver medal in the women’s 4×100 meter freestyle relay.
If there is anything Rio has taught me, it is to never underestimate myself or my opponent. It has allowed for young girls like my sister to envision themselves on the world’s biggest stage in spite of the challenges we are presented in life. Lastly, it has taught me that “Black Girl Magic” is not only a saying but a proud reality.
Jasmine Smarr is a New Jersey native, and alumna of Stuart Country Day School. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Baruch College, with a minor in African-American studies. Prior to participating in collegiate basketball, Jasmine competed in gymnastics where she won over 35 medals. She is a proven leader on and off the court as she coaches youth basketball at the Princeton YMCA while pursuing a career at NBCUniversal.