Black Excellence: A History Of Black Olympians

With the Summer Olympics heating things up in Rio, many records are being broken and legends to being made. But there is a great long list of history made over the last century. Here’s a look back at some of the best and brightest.

George Coleman Poage
George Coleman Poage overcame great racial adversity to be a part of the third-ever Olympic games in St. Louis in 1904, in which many of the events were segregated. Poage competed in the 220-yard and 440-yard hurdles and won a bronze medal in each, the first African-American to win a medal in the Olympic Games.

(photo courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes)

(photo courtesy of Ohio State Buckeyes)

Jesse Owens
Black American sprinter and athlete Jesse (James Cleveland) Owens (1913–1980) won four gold medals for running and field events in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

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Wilma Rudolph
Track and field star Wilma Rudolph blazed a trail in Olympics history. At 16, she became the youngest member of the U.S. team and won a bronze medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. In 1960, she won gold medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter and sprint relay events, making her the first American woman to win three medals in track and field events in the Olympics.



Muhammad Ali
Before he was known to the world as Muhammad Ali and, later, “The Greatest,” Cassius Clay Jr. traveled to Rome for the 1960 Summer Olympics. Clay was awarded a gold medal in the light heavyweight division.


Tommie Smith and John Carlos
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fists in the air in a Black Power salute as the American anthem played made headlines around the world, stirring controversy and getting the two men banned from the Olympics. At the games, Smith won the gold medal for the 200-meter dash and Carlos won the bronze.

A year after his Olympic win, Smith finished his BA in Social Science at San Jose State University and went on to earn a Masters in Social Change from Goddard College, whose program enabled Smith to integrate his teaching and writing practices into his coursework.

After his track and football careers, he became a member of the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1996, Smith was inducted into the California Black Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1999 he received that organization’s Sportsman of the Millennium Award. In 2000 and 2001 the County of Los Angeles and the State of Texas presented Smith with commendation, recognition and proclamation awards.

He later became a track coach at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he also taught sociology and until 2005 was a faculty member teaching physical education at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, California.

flo jo

(Photo credit: Facebook)

Florence Griffith-Joyner
Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner’s blistering speed gave her the title of fastest woman in the world at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, where she set still-unbroken records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. The prolific athlete, who was known for her flashy one-legged tracksuits, six-inch nails and mane of wild, dark curls, won three gold medals that year. It was whispered that Griffith-Joyner took performance-enhancing drugs to attain such feats, though those claims were never proven.

(photo courtesy of YouTube screenshot)

(photo courtesy of YouTube screenshot)

1992 NBA Olympic Dream Team
The original 1992 “Dream Team,” the first U.S. Olympic basketball team to include NBA stars, comprised a mighty pantheon of basketball legends, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley. The team conquered their opponents at the Barcelona Olympics by an average of 44 points each game, earning them…

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