When choosing the best of the best in athletics, the name that immediately springs to mind is Usain Bolt, but others have been forgotten over time and deserve mention for being the best of the best, not just because they are outstanding athletes. Can you imagine a world where black athletics stars weren’t allowed to be on the same running track as white people? No, well, as little as 63 years ago, black and white athletes did not compete against each other.
Attitudes changed slowly after the Second World War when African-American runners ignored the death threats and constant racial slurs and focused on making the sport a better, equal place. In most cases, the athletes chosen were winners for all sorts of reasons, most of which happened outside the arena.
The first athlete who deserves a mention is Jesse Owens, and the second is Wilma Rudolph, a female track and field star who overcame adversity to take three gold medals during the Olympics in Rome in 1960. With so many stars to choose from, you might be surprised that the ‘Lightning Bolt’ only gets a brief mention.
Jesse Owens, More Than Just a Runner
Adolf Hitler hoped to showcase Aryan superiority and militarism on the world stage at the 1936 Games in Berlin, but that would not happen. Owens made the most powerful impact in one of the most outstanding performances ever in Olympic history, winning four track and field events: the 100-m dash, the long jump, the 200-m sprint, and the 4 x 100-m relay.
Owens’s resounding victories frustrated Hitler’s fascist aims and set an Olympic record that was not matched until American track and field champ Carl Lewis captured four golds in 1984. Carl was suspected of doping in 1988, but his win in 1984 was considered legitimate.
Owens said about his win, “I wasn’t running against Hitler. And the Nazis, I was running against the world.” Some might say that metaphorically, black athletics stars are still running against the world and, bit by bit, slowly winning the race.
Wilma Rudolph a 1960’s Superstar
Wilma ‘Glodean’ Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals at once during the Rome Olympics in 1960. Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” after battling polio as a child. Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a disabling, life-threatening disease that can cause paralysis.
In 1973, Rudolph claimed her place in the Black Athletes Hall of Fame (BAHF), and in 1974, she was instated in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
John Carlos and Tommie Smith
Carlos and Smith made history in 1968 at the Summer Games in Mexico City, winning gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter race. Apart from their athleticism, it was their bravery in the face of hostility from white supporters and the media to highlight racial discrimination and violence against Black people in the USA.
The silent protest took place on the podium. Carlos and Smith raised their gloved fists in a symbol of protest. Many years later, Smith said the act “stood for the community and power in Black America.”
The athletes were penalized and sent home; contrary to a common belief, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) did not make Smith and Carlos return their medals.
Anita Neil – British Olympian
Doris ‘Anita’ Neil is an inspiring figure in the history of British Olympians, as she was the first female black athletics star to represent the UK. She proudly competed in the 100-m and the 4 x 100-m relay at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where she witnessed the Carlos and Smith silent protest.
Her hard work and dedication paid off as she advanced to the second round in the 100-m and even made it to the final in the relay. Top Sports News Today takes inspiration from athletes like Neil and their part in making a change.
As the most outstanding female all-around athlete in history, Joyner-Kersee’s achievements include three Olympic gold medals and four World Outdoor Championships golds, and Joyner-Kersee still holds the women’s heptathlon world record of 7,291 points, taking the Sports Illustrated title of the 20th Century’s Greatest Female Athlete.
Winning the Jesse Owens Award in 1986 and 1987 for the best track and field athlete in the US, Joyner-Kersee respects the athlete who changed the face of athletics.
Canada’s Donovan Bailey
Don Bailey is one of Canada’s iconic sportsmen, setting the 100-m world record at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, finishing at 9.84 seconds to become the world’s fastest man, and helping the relay team to win another gold medal.
Bailey is a Jamaican-Canadian who believed in a vision of being the fastest man in the world and made it happen by believing it before any proof of his power was confirmed. Up To Date Sports News takes Bailey’s ethos and runs with it.
Allyson Felix is one of the fastest black women in history and the all-time most decorated woman in track and field history. Felix won two medals at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 before retiring from Olympic competition in 2022.
Felix is not just an outstanding athlete because, off the track, she’s made her mark as an advocate for maternal health and women’s empowerment after being dropped by Nike because they considered she disrespected the brand while she was pregnant by continuing to compete.
When renewing its contract with Felix, Nike offered her a 70% cut in sponsorship, highlighting the problems female athletes face. Felix testified before the US Congress during a hearing about racial disparities in maternal health as a driving force in improved maternity protection for athletes and women alike. It should not take Black Sports News to promote women’s health, but sadly it does.
Noah Lyles vs. Usain Bolt
Lyles is the next Usain Bolt, or at least he would like to think so. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Lyles said, “Talking about Usain Bolt, I was faster than him when he was my age.” Lyles is a highly confident character who may well be the next ‘Lightning Bolt’; however, Lyles has more than the speed to live up to.
Whether Lyles can genuinely live up to his hype and become the next Usain Bolt or Jesse Owens remains to be seen, but his confidence and talent must be recognized. While speed may be his greatest asset, there is no doubt that Lyles will need more than just raw athleticism to achieve greatness.
As with all the other athletes, the hard work, dedication, and willingness to learn and grow made them who they are, and there is no telling what an athlete may be capable of. Current Sports News will have a hand in telling whether Lyles can become a legend in his own right, but one thing is certain: the track and field world is watching closely, and Lyles will have plenty of support, both historical and in real time, as he strives to reach his full potential.
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