The success of track & field and gymnastics has been glaring throughout this summer’s Olympics, and rightfully so. The Black female Olympians in those sports have not only dominated and given performances worth talking about for years to come. Tonight the Olympics come to a bittersweet end, and MADAMNOIRE will be remiss if we did not mention the following women who put in work as we, too, wrap up Olympic coverage. The following Olympians are phenoms in their sport. A’ja Wilson and Sheryl Swoops have names that ring out as they are famous WNBA players. Naya Tapper and Ashleigh Johnson are new names of note, competing as the first Black women in Rugby and Polo competitions, respectively.
A’ja Wilson is a superstar in the WNBA. Wilson’s career began at the University of South Carolina. Wilson played all four years under coach Dawn Staley. She credits Staley’s guidance as one of the key factors in her growth “I trust her insight and her instinct on what was going on . . . she really did something that was gonna help me.” Wilson graduated in 2018, it was at that ceremony that she learned a statue would be erected in her honor. A first round draft pick right out of college, she signed with the Las Vegas Aces where she earned the WNBA rookie of the year award. Her most recent flex is winning the WNBA MVP. Wilson reunited with coach Dawn Staley as a part of Team USA where she made her Olympic debut during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sheryl Swoopes was raised in Brownfield, Texas. Swoopes played basketball her entire college career, earning the National Player of the Year award. In that same year, Swoopes set the record for most points in a Title game—47. Swoopes embodies “because of them we can.” She is not only the first Black woman to sign to the WNBA. She is the first woman to sign—period. Swoopes’s signature on her contract was the first step in a long and prosperous career. In 1996, the year Swoopes joined the WNBA, she also won the gold with Team USA Basketball in the Atlanta Olympics. Swoopes would go on to win gold in the 2000 and 2004 games and have a 15-year professional career. Swoopes was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2016.
Naya Tapper (Rugby)
Naya Tapper began her athletic career as a track and field athlete in high school where she was an All-American athlete. Tapper was accepted into University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she turned her attention to Rugby. She began training with UNC’s Sevens Teams and honed her skill. Tapper would compete with the UNC Women’s Eagles Sevens team and the Women’s Eagles fifteens team and graduate with a Bachelors in Exercise and Sports Science. Her big break came in 2016, when she began competing on a professional level. Tapper debuted at the Women’s Sevens at the 2016 Sao Paulo Sevens tournament. Since her debut, Tapper has a strong track record during the Rugby World Cup Sevens, she “was the second leading try scorer for the tournament, with six tries, as a member of the Women’s Sevens Residency Program.” Tapper’s hard work has not gone unnoticed as she was chosen to compete with Team USA’s Women’s Rugby team in Tokyo. Keep your eye out for this trailblazing queen.
Ashleigh Johnson (Water Polo)
In 2016, Ashleigh Johnson became the first Black woman to be selected for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team. Johnson is a Princeton alumnus, graduating Class of 2016. During her time at Princeton, Johnson raked in accomplishments: “2017 1stTeam CWPA All-Conference… 2017 1stTeam CWPA Championships All-Tournament…Finishes career as Princeton’s all-time leader in saves (1,362) and compiled 100 career victories…CWPA Defensive Player of the Week 19 times in her career…Went 22-4 in 2016-17 with .693 save percentage…Collected 300 saves, the fourth highest in a single season in program history…Four-time CWPA Defensive Player of the Week.” Immediately following her graduation, Johnson competed as a member of Team USA women’s water polo team. Johnson was instegral in leading Team USA to a gold medal in Rio, 2016. “I want other young Black girls to develop that passion and love for how they move through the water, how water feels on their skin and not be influenced by or deterred by that stereotype that Black people don’t belong,” in the water, Johnson said.” It’s safe to say that her entrance and participation in such an elusive sport will help dispel the myth that black women and girls do not belong.
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