The Olympics have long been a site of Black athletic excellence for women who compete and raise the bar in a plethora of sports. Over many years, this band of women have been record-breakers, advocates and influential trendsetters to other athletes and women beyond the sporting industry. MADAMENOIRE takes a look at these current greats and ones from yesteryear.
Sprinting is an elite track and field event especially in the black community. America and our Jamaican cousins own this lane. America is not always the most dominant of the two countries, but holds its own and wins its fair share. The women highlighted here are both prolific veterans in their own right. Both Allyson Felix and Florence Griffith Joyner have made long-lasting impressions on the sport.
Allyson Felix is a nine-time Olympic Medalist. She earned her first medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Felix has medaled in every Olympic competition since.
She won gold in the 200m during the 2012 Olympics. The master sprinter took home five gold medals as a member of relay teams: three 4x400m titles (Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016), and two 4x100m (London 2012, Rio 2016), according to Olympics.com. No other woman in track and field is as decorated as Felix. In 2018, the then 35-year-old gave birth to her first child, the pregnancy was difficult, as Felix developed preeclampsia which led to her having an emergency c-section at 32 weeks. The taxing pregnancy left Felix unable to bounce back immediately. This led to a clash with her Nike sponsor. The working relationship between Felix and Nike came to a head in her 2019 New York Times Op-Ed. Felix revealed that she was offered a salary decrease after becoming a mother and was not given pay protection for lower performance in the months following the birth of her daughter. Felix believes these practices penalize women athletes for embracing motherhood. She ended her partnership with Nike, opting to work with Althea, GAP’s athletic-wear brand. Felix has become an outspoken advocate for mother-athletes. After Felix qualified for the 400m sprints with a time of 50.02 seconds, she shared a celebratory moment with her daughter Camryn and discussed what it took to get her to that place:
“It has been a fight to get here, and one thing I know how to do is fight, so I just wanted to do that all the way home,” Felix told NBC after the race. “Today I thought about all the things. I thought about us fighting in the NICU, fighting for my life, fighting to get on this track.”
Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner
Reigning 100m sprint record holder Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner is no longer with us but her legacy looms large. Not only is she the fastest woman to ever run the 100m at 10.49 seconds, she is also the flyest. Flo Jo’s name is synonymous with flash, flair and femininity—long black hair, long colorful acrylic nails and custom designed one leg tracksuits were her calling card. Flo Jo began her career as an average runner. After her record setting run Flo Jo remained consistent running in the 10.50 – 10.60 range according to her sister in law and fellow Olympian, Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Many tried to discredit Flo Jo’s greatness, suggesting she used performance enhancing drugs but those suggestions have been thoroughly refuted. Griffith-Joyner’s record stands to this day. Her shadow looms large over new sprinters — many admit Flo Jo’s record was unreachable until Jamaica’s own Elaine Thompson-Herah did so during the Tokyo Olympics on July 31