You’d think ice hockey and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would be on opposite ends of the sports spectrum.
But, like hockey, the 2016 Summer Games are helping chip away the hard-dying myth that black athletes don’t excel in the so-called non-traditional sports associated more with white players.
Rio has been a splash party, a sabre-rattling, shot-blocking celebration of black athletes who are showing the world that we are more to sport than football, basketball, and track and field.
From swimmer Simone Manuel adding to the Olympic pool’s water level with her Gold Medal tears of joy to Daryl Homer’s sabre-waving Silver Medal victory dance, it’s been fun – and inspiring – to watch folks thrive in the supposed “Sports That We Don’t Do.”
So what have we learned in Rio?
That black women can swim – and win.
Sugar Land, Texas’ Simone Manuel crushed it in women’s 100 meters on Thursday, becoming the first African-American woman ever to win an individual swimming Gold Medal. She added more Olympic hardware with a Silver Medal in the 50 meter freestyle swim Saturday.
Unfortunately, her feat comes as many Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States have shuttered their NCAA swim teams.
North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University discontinued its program earlier this year, leaving Washington, D.C.’ Howard University as the nation’s only black college with an NCAA Division I swim program.
Overall, only 180 African-American women among 12,428 female swimmers and 214 African-American men among 9,715 male swimmers competed at the collegiate level in 2014-15, according to NCAA figures.
Manuel is aware of her place in history. She told USA Today that “Coming into (Thursday’s) race, I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders as it is something I carry with me being in this position.”
“But I do hope it kind of goes away,” she added. “I am super glad with the fact I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport, but at the same time I would like there to be a day when there are more of us and it’s not ‘Simone, the black swimmer.’”
That black women can float – and do a pretty darn good Dikembe Mutombo “Not in my House” imitation in the process.
That black women can fly.
Simone Biles. ‘Nuff said.
That black men can thrust and parry, too.
Daryl Homer won the first U.S. men’s Silver Medal in individual sabre in 112 years. The Virgin Islands native and Bronx, N.Y., resident also became the first American to medal in fencing since the 1984 Games.
That you can be true to your sport and your faith.
Ibtihaj Muhammad arrived in Rio as one of the most decorated women in fencing – ranked seventh internationally, a three-time NCAA All-American (2004,2005, 2006), and the 2012 Muslim Sportswoman of the Year.
She also arrived wearing a hijab, becoming the first U.S. female athlete to compete in the head covering worn by some Muslim women. The 30-year-old Duke University graduate was eliminated in the women’s individual sabre competition, but helped the U.S. women’s team advance to the semifinals Saturday with a 45-43 win over Poland.