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Black Women Carry the Torch of Olympic Glory.

This September, Sydney, Australia will be the host of the first Olympiad staged in the new Millennium. The ancient Greeks established the Olympics in 776 B.C. as contests to determine athletic, intellectual and artistic superiority among their male inhabitants. When the modern Olympic games began in 1896, the ban on female athletes continued. In the 1900 Olympiad women were finally included, but it was not until 1932 that the first African-American women were finally chosen to participate in the Olympic games held in Los Angeles, California. Since that monumental Olympic year, black women have participated in the games, and helped to create an aesthetic of the athletic superstar, competing in all areas of track and field, tennis, basketball, soccer, rowing, volleyball, gymnastics and figure skating, among other sports. As the number of sports entered into Olympic competition grows, so too do the numbers of black women in the games.

Black female Olympians have been a boundless force in sport and society, throughout the 20th century, and as we enter the 21st, they continue to irrepressibly fracture the oppressive stigmas attached to race and gender, and increasingly, sexuality. Since Alice Coachman became the first black woman to win Olympic gold, in the 1948 high jump (also the only American woman to win a track and field event at that year's Olympic games) icons such as Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith-Joyner have been shining symbols of the progress of women both inside and outside of the athletic arena.

While books about black female Olympians are still few and far between, there is evidence that the tide is beginning to turn. Most of the books out still predominately focus on track and field and, since the 1996 games, basketball. But with newer role models in a wide range of sports, like Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and French figure skater Surya Bonali, as well as the lesser-known legacies of athletes like two-time fencing champion Nikki Franke, the doors are opening ever wider to black women to excel in sports that express the wide range of our experience. Currently, profound examples of black female athletes' meteoric ascent are illustrated through the careers of celebrated young basketball champion Chamique Holdsclaw and record-breaking track star Marion Jones. Both are expected to represent the United States this year in Sydney.

Holdsclaw, who signed on to play for the WNBA's Washington Mystics after an astounding career in college hoops that earned her the nick-name "the female Michael Jordan," is a member of the US national team which is strongly favored to capture the gold medal. Jones, who is the top female track and field athlete in the world, will compete for an unprecedented five gold medals in the 100-and 200-meter dashes, the long-jump, the 4x100 and the 4x400 meter relays.

Although Holdsclaw's and Jones' athletic prowess are prodigious, it is their economic earning power that separates these modern-day athletes from their predecessors. Both have garnered lucrative endorsement deals with the athletic apparel giant Nike--the kind of deals that were previously the sole domain of male athletic stars. In the book Sole Influence by Dan Wetzel (Little, Brown & Co.), a chapter dedicated to the 1999 WNBA Rookie of the Year entitled `Be Like Mique' proclaims that Holdsclaw, may truly be the next basketball superstar "not only on the court, but because of her evident off-the-court cross-cultural appeal." Jones is vigorously promoted by Nike. The former University of North Carolina track and basketball star, subject of the eccentric WhateverNike ads, commands hefty appearance fees for her participation in world-wide track events.

Still, the publishing arena has yet to fully recognize the breadth of impact of these world-class athletes and most quality books about black female Olympians still revolve around icons from decades gone by. Rudolph, whose remarkable life story is chronicled by Wayne Coffey in Wilma Rudolph: Beating the Odds (Blackbirch Press Books), competed in a time--the late 1950s and early 1960s--when women's sports was not widely accepted. She could only have dreamed of being paid for athletic participation. Today, one needs to look no further than the imminent Olympic champions Holdsclaw and Jones as illustrations of how black women have positively altered the landscape both sports and society. With the 2000 Olympic games a new phase of black female dominance in Olympic sport is set to begin. We have yet to see if the world of publishing will take heed and follow suit.

--by Jaime Harris BIBR Sports Editor
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Harris, Jaime
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:742
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