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On July 23, 1996, at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team wins its first-ever team gold.
The 1996 U.S. women’s team, nicknamed the “Mag 7″ or “magnificent seven,” was made up of seven immensely talented teenaged girls: Amanda Borden, Amy Chow, Dominique Dawes, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Jaycie Phelps and Kerri Strug. The team entered the Summer Olympics with the expectations of an entire country heaped on their young shoulders. They were considered America’s best shot ever at an Olympic team gold, something no American women’s gymnastics team had ever won. The American women’s best finish to that point had been a silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which were boycotted by the favored Soviet Union, winner of eight consecutive team golds between 1952 and 1980.
To win the gold in 1996, the U.S. women faced a battle with perennial contender Russia and Romania, the two-time defending world champions. Still, U.S. fans believed the odds were good: The team had deep reserves of talent and each of its members was capable of winning events. When the team competition began, veteran U.S. star Shannon Miller did not disappoint, delivering an impressive performance to place second overall to the Ukranian world champion Lilia Podkopayeva.
The final event of the team competition for the U.S. was the vault. Fourteen-year-old Dominique Moceanu, the first American to compete, had a chance to clinch the gold for her team with a solid performance, but was unable to stick the landing on her first attempt. As the pro-American crowd gathered in Atlanta held their breath, Moceanu took off for her second vault, and, again, slipped and fell on the landing. This left it up to Strug, America’s second and final vaulter, to seal the win.
On her first attempt, Strug also fell on the landing, and heard an alarming pop in her ankle. The team and coach Bela Karolyi were unaware that the team had won whether Strug vaulted again or not, so Strug bravely readied herself to vault on her badly sprained ankle. After executing a perfect one-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko, Strug landed solidly on two feet. She then spun and hopped on one foot towards the judges’ table before collapsing in pain. When her 9.712 was announced, she celebrated in the arms of her coach, who would later have to carry the 4-foot-9-inch “Spark Plug” Strug to the medal stand.
READ MORE: When World Events Disrupted the Olympics
Meet the 2016 US Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team
-- The U.S. women's gymnastics team has won gold at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian defended the USA’s gold medal title in the the team all-around.
Hometown: Spring, Texas
Biles is a three-time, all-around world champion and is considered by many to be the “greatest female gymnast ever,” according to the Team USA website. In three years, Biles has won 14 world championship medals, 10 of which were gold, putting her at the top of the list for any U.S. athlete in history. At qualifications, Biles won the all-around, earning herself the only automatic qualification spot.
Fun Fact: Biles’s favorite event is vault.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Douglas began making history in 2012, when she became the first U.S. athlete to win both team and all-around gold medals at the London Olympics. She was also the first black gymnast to win an individual gold medal. Douglas has the potential to be a surprise all-around final competitor and medalist, according to the team’s site.
Fun Fact: Douglas became involved in gymnastics thanks to her older sister, Arielle, who is now a ballroom dancer.
Hometown: Needham, Massachusetts
Like Douglas, Raisman, too, was a competitor in the 2012 Olympics in London, from which she returned as the most decorated U.S. gymnast, with a gold on floor exercise, a bronze on the balance beam and having contributed to the team gold. Raisman returns at Rio after taking a break following the London Games.
Fun Fact: Raisman began gymnastics at a Mommy & Me class at 18 months old.
Hometown: Old Bridge, New Jersey
As the youngest member of the team, Hernandez is also the only first-year, senior-level gymnast. But she’s already making history. Hernandez is the first Puerto Rican woman to make a U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team. At qualifications, she finished second to Biles in the all-around and won balance beam.
Fun Fact: Her pre-performance ritual includes putting her hand over her belly and taking a deep breath.
Kocian is an uneven bars specialist and the only event specialist on the team. In 2015, she won the uneven bars world title in a four-way tie for gold. Despite her area of expertise, Kocian is expected to contribute to the other events as well.
Fun fact: Kocian and Raisman roomed together at the Olympic qualifications.
Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner and Ragan Smith will serve as replacement athletes.
Archie Hahn, known as The Milwaukee Meteor, kicked off America’s early sprinting dominance by winning a haul of golds in 1904 and ’06, later writing a book called “How to Sprint” (really). Since then, United States sprinters have won 26 out of 47 gold medals in the 100 meter. Jamaica dominated sprinting in Rio, and became the first country to win as many gold medals as the United States in a single Olympics. It is an impressive tally for a country with about as many people as Brooklyn. But outside sprinting, Jamaica did not win medals in any other event.
Kenya owns middle-distance running. Straight golds (and usually silver, too) in the 3,000-meter men’s steeplechase since 1984.
Abebe Bikila’s barefoot marathon win at the 1960 games in Rome was Ethiopia’s first medal and the country hasn’t looked back, winning more than 25 medals in long-distance running since then. Between 1912 and 1936, though, Finland — known as the “Flyin’ Finns” — owned distance running. Bikila’s coach was Finnish.
In Rio, however, Ethiopia’s long distance gold medal run took a hit. Kenya won gold in both marathons and the women’s 5-kilometer event, and Britain’s Mohamed Farah repeated his 2012 London performance with gold medals in the men’s 5K and 10K.
11 of the Youngest Olympians in the History of the Games
NAGANO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 20: Tara Lipinski (USA) skates in the Free Skate event of the Ladies Singles figure skating competition of the 1998 Winter Olympics on February 20, 1998 in Nagano, Japan. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) Getty Images
At just 13 years old, Gaurika Singh of Nepal is handling her Olympic debut with poise and maturity far beyond her years. The youngest athlete in this year's Summer Olympics in Rio, Singh walked onto the pool deck for her 100-meter backstroke race just moments after she accidentally ripped her swimsuit. She called her coach for advice, changed her suit, strode into the arena, and competed. While she didn't end up advancing, she made quite the Olympic splash.
“What an amazing experience,” she said after her race. “I can’t believe it’s happening.”
While Gaurika is the youngest person to compete in Rio this year, she is not the first 13-year-old to compete in the Olympic Games. In fact, she joins a small group of other very young athletes — some as young as 10 — who have made it into competitions that pit them against peers a decade or more older than them. Here's a look back at some of the youngest athletes in history to make it to the Olympic games.
Tara Lipinski, 15
The famed U.S. skater was 15 when she scored her first gold medal in the Ladies' Single event in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Lipinski became the youngest person ever to hold the title of U.S., World, and Olympic Champion, and then turned professional at age 15, touring with Champions on Ice and Stars on Ice.
Dominique Moceanu, 14
For gymnastics fans, there are few great sports stories like that of the 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team known as The Magnificent Seven. Dominique Moceanu, at age 14, was the youngest member of the seven. Despite an injury that kept her out of individual competition and struggling through team competition, she helped the U.S. team nab the gold, becoming the youngest athlete to win the gold for women's gymnastics. She was also the youngest athlete ever featured on a Wheaties Box.
Marjorie Gestring, 13
Gestring was 13 years and 268 days old when she competed in the Olympics in Berlin, Germany, in 1936, and helped the U.S. women's diving team win a gold medal, according to Top End Sports. Gestring continued to compete nationally after the ✶ Olympics, but further Olympic ambitions were thwarted when World War II led to the cancelation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympic games, according to the BBC.
Kim Yun-Mi, 13
In 1994, Kim Yun-Mi of South Korea made Olympic speed-skating history when she competed at the Lillehammer Games at the age of 13. She won the gold in the 3,000-meter relay and became the youngest Olympic champion at the Winter Games, according to Sports Reference.
Donna Elizabeth de Varona, 13
Donna Elizabeth was 13 years and 129 days old when she competed in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay at the 1960 Olympics on the qualifying team, getting the team into the eventual competition where they won the gold.
Inge Sørensen, 12
Inge was the youngest Olympic female medalist in history when she took home the bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke competition at the 1936 Olympics, according to the BBC. She then went on to win the gold in 1938.
The Italian Gymnastics Team in 1928, ages 11 and 12
In the 1928 Olympics, Italy sent three young gymnasts to represent it in the Olympics: Luigina Giavotti, who was 11 years and 301 days old, Ines Vercesi, who was 12 years and 99 days old, and Carla Marangoni, who was 12 years and 269 days old.
Dimitrios Loundras, 10
Dimitrios Loundras was one of the first athletes to compete in the Olympic Games when they made their modern debut in 1896. He was 10 years old when he competed in the Summer Olympics in Athens and won a bronze medal with his gymnastics team. He has held the title of youngest Olympic athlete since that time.
Unknown Dutch rower boy
While Dimitrios Loundras holds the official title of youngest Olympic athlete, Olympic historians have long studied a photo of a Dutch rowing team in the 1900 Olympics in which a substitute coxswain was brought in at the last minute to replace the team's regular coxswain, Hermanus Brockmann. A young boy is seen with rowers Françoise Brandt and Roelof Klein, but his age is unknown.
Life and Career After Gymnastics
Dominique Dawes retired from gymnastics for good after the 2000 Olympics. Outside of competition, Dawes&apos career has varied from motivational speaking to a one-time stint on Broadway, appearing as Patty Simcox in Grease. She has worked to encourage young people to be active, serving as president of the Women&aposs Sports Foundation and as part of Michelle Obama&aposs "Let&aposs Move Active Schools" campaign. Dawes also became co-chair of the President&aposs Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition in 2010.
Dawes, who entered the USA Gymnastics&apos Hall of Fame in 2005, has inspired an untold number of girls with her success. But it wasn&apost until she watched Halle Berry win an Academy Award (Berry was the first African American to win a Best Actress Oscar, for 2001&aposs Monster&aposs Ball) that Dawes fully realized the power of the example she had set.
Dawes remained involved in gymnastics by providing coverage for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. She was able to see Gabby Douglas become the first African American to win an individual gold medal in the all-around competition in 2012, and was thrilled that another generation of girls would be able to look up to Douglas the way others had looked up to her.
Photo: Filippo Tomasi/USA Gymnastics
Weight: 115 pounds
That's when I'm most comfortable: sweating in a gym, covered in chalk. I spend the majority of my days in a leotard. Most girls are used to wearing heels and dresses, and I'm used to being in a leotard with no makeup on. I love that. It's kind of all I've ever known.
I totally pulled a Jennifer Lawrence. A lot of the Olympians went to the Golden Globes, and I was walking down the stairs and I totally tumbled down the stairs in front of all the male Olympians. I'm really clumsy. I can do anything on a 4-inch-wide beam, but when I walk down the street in sneakers, I'll trip and fall on my face.
After one Olympics, most people are just burnt out. They just kind of want to be done. After 2012, I took a full year off. [Teammate] Gabby Douglas and I did. We needed a break. It's just repetitions after repetitions. There's no offseason. But at the same time, you always have to keep your goals in the back of your mind.
I should be more proud of myself, but I'm such a perfectionist. At the last Olympics I got two golds and a bronze, but I think more about the fact that I didn't medal in the All-Around than the fact that I did really well. That kind of pisses me off -- I always think that it's never good enough. I almost fell and put my hand down it was stupid, I never make that mistake on the beam. I'll have a second chance at it, but I think about it all the time. I wish I didn't have to learn that valuable lesson at the Olympics.
We train our whole lives for that one moment. You work your whole life for a minute-and-a-half beam routine. I work out six days, 32 hours a week for the dream of competing at the Olympics again. I'm always eating healthy, always going to bed early. Everything I put into my body is for the purpose of gymnastics.
My coaches always tell me I'm chicken. I'm really afraid to do a lot of stuff in gymnastics. It looks easy or fun, but when you're trying to learn all these crazy skills, it can be a little terrifying. When I actually think about how narrow the beam is or how high the bars are or how much it hurts to fall, that's what freaks me out.
Every day is a challenge. Even though at the 2012 Olympics we were so happy to win the gold medal, every day is not like that. I think people don't understand that people don't see that side of the sport -- the frustration, how much it takes a toll on your body, and mentally as well.
Outside the gym, I'm super messy. In the gym, everything has to be perfect. All the girls at training camp fight over who doesn't have to room with me because I'm so messy [laughs]. I've been rooming with Gabby a lot, and Gabby will get so annoyed with me.
I can do rope climbs without using my legs, only my arms. Before the last Olympics, I would put a 10-pound weight between my legs and climb the rope all the way to the ceiling.
You can always spot the gymnast. They are so ripped and so strong. Even if I was just wearing a T-shirt, my arms would just be more muscular than other girls'. If we were playing sports, I would just crush them. Even now, when I race against a guy, I always think it's fun to beat them because they get so upset.
I don't hear anything during a competition. I'm so focused, I can block out everyone except for my coaches and my teammates. When I was competing in the London Olympics during the beam final, there were thousands of screaming people in the stands, but the only voice I could hear was [teammate] McKayla Maroney. She was talking me through the beam routine the whole time.
Yeah, I got drug-tested at Access Hollywood. It was so weird. I was part of the USA drug-testing pool at the time. You have to give them an hour, every single day, when they can randomly test you. It was the final week of Dancing With the Stars, so I text them the night before: "I'm going on Access Hollywood at 8:30 a.m." So [the testing official] came right at 8 o'clock. It was like they purposely wanted to be at Access Hollywood. I was also tested at Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup finals. They weren't allowed to come into the arena because you need a ticket, so I had to leave the arena and go across the street. It's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup! Am I just going to have them come in the stall with me?
I've never had an eating disorder, and I'm proud of that. I think gymnastics in the past had a bad reputation for that, but it's not an issue anymore. I've never seen an issue among the girls on the national team.
I think imperfection is beauty. Instead of being insecure about my muscles, I've learned to love them. I don't even think of it as a flaw anymore because it's made me into the athlete that I am.
This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2015, online on July 6 and hitting newsstands July 10. Subscribe today!
Evolution of the Fitness Industry: A Brief History of the Public Gym
The health club you are running today with rows of treadmills, weight machines, pumping music and cutting-edge programming has taken centuries to come into being.
While not a straight line, there is a long history of public gyms,going back thousands of years to the first gymnasiums of ancient Greece.
In the Beginning
Sure, running to catch your food &ndashor avoid being it&mdashwas the way humans got and stayed in shape from the beginning of time. However, over time, people looked for ways to improve their health and performance in less life-threatening ways.
While today&rsquos health clubs are full of yoga pants and technology, you were more apt to find naked men preparing for competition and battle in the early days of public gyms. Greece is the root of what we now know as the modern health club or gym. The word 'gymnasium' originated from the Greek word &ldquogymnos,&rdquo which translates to naked. Gyms at that time were usually a place for the education of young men (it will be a while until we get to women in the gym), which included physical education along with educational pursuits along with bathing. The ancient Greek's designed these public gymnasiums for athletes to train for open games such as the Olympics. Fitness and care of body was part of the overall philosophy of the ancient Greeks along with education. In fact, highlighting the public gym roots of Athens, were the Academy with Plato, and Aristotle's school the Lyceum.
The Dark Ages and Rebirth of Fitness
After the fall of the Greco-Roman Empires, gyms along with art and music disappeared as the appreciation and pursuit of a healthy and sculpted body was frowned upon. It was not until the early 1800s that gyms made a minor resurgence in Germany. Still, though, these were not gyms as we think of them today. However, by the middle of the 19th Century schools began to build gymnasiums to help bolster their burgeoning athletic programs, which rekindled the public&rsquos fascination and appreciation of not only the health benefits of exercise but the aesthetics of looking more fit.
Early Commercial Gyms
The first commercial gym is typically credited to French gymnast and vaudeville-strongman, Hippolyte Triat. He opened his first club in Brussels and then added a second in Paris in the late 1840s. At the end of the 19th century, another gym was established by an entrepreneurial music hall strongman, Eugen Sandow. In 1901 Sandow staged the world&rsquos first physique contest, and he later promoted the burgeoning fitness lifestyle by marketing various publications, equipment, and dietary products and by operating a chain of fitness centers throughout Great Britain. To this day, the prize presented at the Mr. Olympia contest is named for this health club and fitness pioneer.
Founded in 1844 in London England, The YMCA would eventually lead the way for fitness for many men. According to the YMCA website, The first buildings constructed with gymnasiums opened in 1869. In 1881, Boston YMCA staffer Robert J. Roberts coined the term &ldquobody building&rdquo and developed exercise classes, which are the forerunner of today&rsquos health club model. YMCA came into existence. At the forefront of the health club model that would grow through the 20th Century.
In 1939, fitness legend Jack LaLanne opened what is believed to be the first U.S. health club in Oakland, Calif. At that time, doctors advised patients that there were dangers associated with lifting weights and rigorous exercise, LaLanne found success and designed and introduced many of the machines that are still mainstays on traditional gym floors such as first leg extension machines and pulley-cable based strength equipment. He even was an early proponent of women lifting weights, although very few took him up on it in the early days.
Of course, today, women make up more than half of the gym-going population and some of that rise can be credited to the birth of health club chains in the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to the birth of the health club chain, fitness centers were primarily fringe dingy boxes with rusty iron and maybe a boxing ring where predominantly men lifted weights in pursuit of perfection or trained for sports&mdashnot much different than the motivation for the first gyms in ancient Greece.
While still fringe and a Mecca for early bodybuilders, the birth of Gold&rsquos Gym in Venice, Calif. in 1965 signaled the beginning of the rise of a new big-box concept for health and fitness that could &ndashand would be&mdashrecreated to open the doors to the masses. Joe Gold followed his success with Gold&rsquos gym by founding the World Gym chain in 1977.
Mainstream and the Women&rsquos Movement
The adrenaline-and-big-hair-fueled 80s gave rise to an increasing number of gym chains including 24 Hour Fitness (1983) and LA Fitness (1984), as Jack LaLanne&rsquos European Health Spas topped more than 200, before licensing them to Bally Company. Additionally, the success of Jane Fonda&rsquos exercise video drove many legwarmer-clad women through the doors of these clubs to lift light weights and do aerobic dance classes.
The mega-chains continue to this day, but as with many things, today&rsquos consumers are looking for a more personal and intimate experience and throughout the 1990s and 2000s smaller mom-and-pop health clubs, personal training, and mind-body studios along with Cross-Fit and other specialty exercise facilities that cater to more of the personal touch.
Looking back at history is far easier than looking ahead to the future. What do you think the future of the fitness industry is? Share your thoughts with us on social: @ClubReady or facebook.
Gym Owners Ready to Expand
This ebook, The Fitness Owner's Success Kit, can serve as a playbook to help you make the transition.
Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.
Gabby Douglas, in full Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas, (born December 31, 1995, Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.), gymnast who, at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, became both the first American to claim gold medals in the team and individual all-around events and the first African American to win the all-around title.
What is Gabby Douglas famous for?
American gymnast Gabby Douglas, at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, became both the first American to claim gold medals in the team and individual all-around events and the first African American to win the all-around title.
When was Gabby Douglas born?
American gymnast Gabby Douglas was born on December 31, 1995, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.
Where did Gabby Douglas grow up?
Gabby Douglas grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she practiced gymnastics from age six. In 2010—at age 14—she left her family and moved in with a host family in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she started training with prominent coach Liang Chow.
The American Family in World War II
With war comes devastation, depression, deprivation and death. World War II was uppermost in U.S. history with costs exceeding $350 billion and more than 292,000 American servicemen killed in action. The families on the home front were profoundly affected. An immediate political, psychological and economic shift took place following the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941, because the United States found itself unprepared. The onset of war necessitated numerous adjustments while American forces were fighting overseas or training in U.S. military camps, families also were fully engaged in the war effort. The American home front geared up for an all-out effort to rush into war production, and American society experienced dramatic changes. The first major impact was felt with labor shortages when the men went off to war. More and more women now entered the work force. Once reserved for men, women now took up jobs in industry, and Rosie the Riveter became a popular icon in America. Widening their horizons, many women were now working full time and yet were still trying to maintain their home life. Attracted by waiting jobs, the number of high school dropouts increased significantly, resulting in the teenage work force swelling from one million to three million youngsters. In the meantime, federal inspectors ignored laws that regulated the employment of children. Although the war had opened up new opportunities, it also brought much sadness and a far more serious reality regarding life in its normal state. Separation from fathers or sons left devastating effects, and in a sense, many felt robbed of their childhood. With the family shifting roles, each member was initially shocked and filled with mixed emotions. With added stresses it was an emotional time, to say the least — the American family would undoubtedly be changed forever. While adjusting to sacrifices, there was an added excitement about the war and uncertain fear of the consequences as well. The war brought vast changes: While there was an increase in marriages, job opportunities, and patriotism there was also a definite decline in morale among some Americans. Despite the increase in rising wages, poverty increased and some families were forced to move in search of work. Some 20 million people existed on the border of starvation as families faced a severe shortage of housing, lack of schools, hospitals and child-care facilities. Those factors contributed to an upsurge in divorce, resulting in severe problems among the young. There were five million "war widows" trying to care for their children alone. Women employed outside the home left tens of thousands of "latchkey" children who were unsupervised much of the day. The rates of juvenile delinquency, venereal disease and truancy rose dramatically. The impact on the family was evident, attended by much anxiety about the breakdown of social values. The war also aggravated systemic racism. On the West Coast there was actual hysteria when the war broke out. Thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were relocated and interned in camps. As for African Americans, they were usually "the last to be hired and the first to be fired." Low wages were the rule and even though they were accepted into the armed forces, they were assigned menial jobs. Discrimination continued its divisive role in society during that era. With 25 percent of the American workers earning less than 64 cents per hour while skilled workers earned an average of $7 per hour, there was a definite division of rich versus poor citizens. Poverty increased as the federal deficit escalated. By 1945, longer working days were implemented, which inflicted more hardships on families — with women comprising 36 percent of the nation's work force. The federal government encouraged Americans to conserve and recycle numerous items, so that factories could use them for wartime production materials. Getting their first taste of recycling, Americans were encouraged to salvage their tin cans, bottles, rubber items, paper, scrap metal, and even fats left over from cooking. The government conducted "salvage drives" throughout the country to aid the war effort. Food rationing was the rallying cry on the American home front. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) was set up to determine rationing regulations. With the military as top priority, American families began to feel the pinch. There were now such substitute foods as dried powdered eggs and liquid paraffin instead of cooking oil. For those who violated the rationing rules, the punishment was strict. "Victory Gardens" were started as the government encouraged Americans to grow their own food. Statewide competitions were conducted and winning recipes published to optimize use of home-grown vegetables. That endeavor was successful, and at one point during the war, 50 percent of the the nation's vegetables were grown in victory gardens. Although the nation’s farm population declined 17 percent during the war, modern farm machinery, good weather, and improved fertilizers actually increased agricultural production. The sale of war bonds and war stamps also helped the United States to stage a rapid economic recovery. Unfortunately, only about one third of the American people could afford to contribute to the cause. Changes were felt all the way to the top. As the federal government continued to cut funding for many social programs, many idealists left their government positions. War necessities directly influenced American fashion. The War Production Board (WPB) became the nation’s premier clothing consultant in the spring of 1942. They influenced the appearance of civilian apparel by dictating the conservation of cloth and metal, changing the very style — especially women’s garments. Dependence on fewer materials led to the two-piece bathing suit. Nieman Marcus called them "patriotic chic." Taxes skyrocketed. It was not possible to purchase a car because none were being produced. To obtain a telephone, one had to be in a critical occupation of the war effort — and yet the U.S. standard of living actually rose during those years! The country had pulled out of an awesome economic depression thanks to greatly expanded war production. The end of the war revealed pent-up demand. Prices skyrocketed with the removal of Price Controls, but women stayed on the job to buy items needed for the family. The American Dream now became a reality as families found it possible to buy a home, a car, a washing machine, and to give their children everything they had been deprived of for so long. As a result of the war, the nation had become more urbanized because 1.5 million Americans had moved from rural areas into the cities. Women’s labor force participation continued to increase after the war and has been rising ever since. The vast changes in wartime society and domestic adjustments are evident even today. The Americans who survived the devastating effects of World War II hold deeply embedded memories. Fortunately, they were willing to share them.
The 10 Greatest Black Women Athletes of All Time
It's inevitable that when a little brown girl tries out for a sport, there will be skepticism. Not necessarily for pursuing athletics—we have long been accepting of women's sports and teams. The skepticism is usually born from a belief that sports can be no more than a hobby for her. That even if she does pursue it professionally, she will never be as successful—in finances or fame—as her male counterparts. Add to these obstacles the ever present white supremacist thinking that drives mainstream perceptions of what makes a great tennis player, gymnast, or basketball player, and our girls have, as my Nanny used to say, a hard way to go.
In fact, if the statistics regarding how many young boys chasing their dreams of being the next LeBron James or Russell Wilson actually grow up to be multi-million-dollar ballers are low, they are dismal for young girls. Yet, when that same little girl presses pass the haters and naysayers, disregarding the stats, she doesn't just win games, she dominates! It's time to celebrate our Black women athletes, the ones of days past who kicked down closed doors and shattered glass ceilings, as well as the present stars who are strutting down those already fiercely blazed trails.
Here is our list of the Top Ten Black Women Athletes of All Time.
1. Serena Williams
We love Serena Williams. Her talent on the court has not gone unnoticed. In 2014, she was named America’s Greatest Athlete by The New Yorker and media often refer to her as the “Queen of the Court.” The flyest woman to ever hold a tennis racket was raised in Compton, CA and is the winner of 6 U.S. Opens and 5 Wimbledons. The Women's Tennis Association ranked her World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions between 2002 and 2013. Most recently, she earned her 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open.
There couldn’t be a Serena without an Althea Gibson. She was the first black athlete to break the color line in international tennis, winning the French Open in 1956, followed by the Wimbledon and what would ultimately become the U.S. Open in 1957—a feat she repeated in 1958. The Associated Press named her the Female Athlete of the year in both 1957 and 1958. In addition to her work on the tennis court, Gibson also played golf professionally. After retiring from the sports world, Gibson had a brief stint as a singer and actor then later became the Athletic Commissioner of New Jersey.
|Photo: Getty Images|
3. Laila Ali
Don’t you just love it when the legacy of a sports legend is passed down to…wait for it…a girl? Yes! With an undefeated record of 24 of 24 matches won including 21 knockouts, Laila Ali has made the alleged insult “fight like a girl” into a bona fide badge of honor. When Ali first decided to pursue boxing, she was met with some pushback from her father Muhammad Ali. Her response? “I'm going to be fighting women, not men. And I have your genetics.” After her 24 wins, Ali retired and has made numerous TV appearances. She is committed to giving back to her community and wrote a motivational book called Reach! Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power that encourages girls to pursue their goals.
|Photo: Jonathan Daniel / ALLSPORT|
4. Alice Coachman
Alice Coachman, who passed away last summer at the age of 90, was the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Coachman began turning heads when she broke AAU high school and college records. Specializing in the high jump, the Albany, Georgia native certainly leaped over all the racism thrown her way. Each year between 1939 and 1948, she won a national championship award. In 1948, she was the only American woman to bring home an Olympic gold medal in athletics. And while today we are comfortable seeing our athletes promoting everything from cars to energy bars, Coachman was the first African American woman to endorse an international product, Coca-Cola. Coachman blazed trails for future black track stars like Florence Griffith Joyner.
5. Wilma Rudolph
Calling a woman “fast” before the 60s was usually a way to tear her down by casting judgment on some perceived promiscuity. Enter Wilma Rudolph who, by the 60s, was considered the fastest woman on earth—literally. An amazing feat for this former premature infant who contracted polio as a child and was forced to wear a leg brace for many years. Stepping comfortably into the lane held down by Alice Coachman a generation before, Rudolph was the first Black woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games. In both 1960 and 1961, she was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year. Rudolph went on to a long career as an educator, track coach, and sports commentator after the end of her professional track career. In 2004, the United States Postal Service honored Rudolph with a 'Distinguished American' stamp.
One cannot have a discussion about the greatest basketball player of all time without talking about Michael Jordan and yet, Swoopes, often called the “female Michael Jordan” should very well be a contender. The first player signed to the WNBA, she has won three Olympic gold medals, is a three-time WNBA MVP, and remains on every top WNBA player list ever made. Prior to her work in the WNBA, Swoopes made waves at Texas Tech, where she set several school records. The Brownfield, Texas native scored 955 points in the 1992 season and also had three triple-doubles and twenty-three double-doubles during her time on the team. Swoopes is currently the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Loyola University Chicago.
Who didn’t love watching “Awesome Dawesome”?! A phenomenal gymnast, Dawes was a 10-year member of the U.S. national gymnastics team and member of the gold-winning 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta. She’s also the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. Between 2004 and 2006, Dawes served as president of the Women’s Sports Federation and in 2010, she was named a co-chair for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Today, Dawes is rocking out as a gymnastics coach and motivational speaker.
8. Florence Griffith Joyner
Before our girl Serena even knew what it meant to be “fly,” Flo-Jo was setting fire to tracks and fields with long, painted nails, cherry red lip game, and thick, gorgeous hair floating behind her. "[Florence Griffith Joyner] was someone who wanted to make a fashion statement, as well as do it while running so fast you could barely see the fashion," said Phil Hersh on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series. Taking the baton from Wilma Rudolph, Flo-Jo is considered the fastest woman of all time. In 1985, she won the 100m at the IAAF Grand Prix Final with the time of 11.00 seconds. Her records, set back in 1988 in the 100m and 200m, have yet to be broken. Sadly, our beloved Flo-Jo left us entirely too soon, dying from an epileptic seizure in 1998.
A History of Gymnastics: From Ancient Greece to Modern Times
Find out about the Ancient Greek origin of gymnastics, and learn additional details about modern competitions and scoring.
The sport of gymnastics, which derives its name from the ancient Greek word for disciplinary exercises, combines physical skills such as body control, coordination, dexterity, gracefulness, and strength with tumbling and acrobatic skills, all performed in an artistic manner. Gymnastics is performed by both men and women at many levels, from local clubs and schools to colleges and universities, and in elite national and international competitions.
Gymnastics was introduced in early Greek civilization to facilitate bodily development through a series of exercises that included running, jumping, swimming, throwing, wrestling, and weight lifting. Many basic gymnastic events were practiced in some form before the introduction by the Greeks of gymnazein, literally, "to exercise naked." Physical fitness was a highly valued attribute in ancient Greece, and both men and women participated in vigorous gymnastic exercises. The Romans, after conquering Greece, developed the activities into a more formal sport, and they used the gymnasiums to physically prepare their legions for warfare. With the decline of Rome, however, interest in gymnastics dwindled, with tumbling remaining as a form of entertainment.
In 1774, a Prussian, Johann Bernhard Basedow, included physical exercises with other forms of instruction at his school in Dessau, Saxony. With this action began the modernization of gymnastics, and also thrust the Germanic countries into the forefront in the sport. In the late 1700s, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn of Germany developed the side bar, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the balance beam, and jumping events. He, more than anyone else, is considered the "father of modern gymnastics." Gymnastics flourished in Germany in the 1800s, while in Sweden a more graceful form of the sport, stressing rhythmic movement, was developed by Guts Muth. The opening (1811) of Jahn's school in Berlin, to promote his version of the sport, was followed by the formation of many clubs in Europe and later in England. The sport was introduced to the United States by Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent, who taught gymnastics in several U.S. universities about the time of the Civil War, and who is credited with inventing more than 30 pieces of apparatus. Most of the growth of gymnastics in the United States centered on the activities of European immigrants, who introduced the sport in their new cities in the 1880s. Clubs were formed as Turnverein and Sokol groups, and gymnasts were often referred to as "turners." Modern gymnastics excluded some traditional events, such as weight lifting and wrestling, and emphasized form rather than personal rivalry.
Men's gymnastics was on the schedule of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, and it has been on the Olympic agenda continually since 1924. Olympic gymnastic competition for women began in 1936 with an all-around competition, and in 1952 competition for the separate events was added. In the early Olympic competitions the dominant male gymnasts were from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, the countries where the sport first developed. But by the 1950s, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European countries began to produce the leading male and female gymnasts.
Modern gymnastics gained considerable popularity because of the performances of Olga Korbut of the Soviet Union in the 1972 Olympics, and Nadia Comaneci of Romania in the 1976 Olympics. The widespread television coverage of these dramatic performances gave the sport the publicity that it lacked in the past. Many countries other than the traditional mainstays at the time &mdash the USSR, Japan, East and West Germany, and other Eastern European nations &mdash began to promote gymnastics, particularly for women among these countries were China and the United States.
Modern international competition has six events for men and four events for women. The men's events are the rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, side or pommel-horse, long or vaulting horse, and floor (or free) exercise. These events emphasize upper body strength and flexibility along with acrobatics. The women's events are the vaulting horse, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise, which is performed with musical accompaniment. These events combine graceful, dancelike movements with strength and acrobatic skills. In the United States, tumbling and trampoline exercises are also included in many competitions.
Teams for international competitions are made up of six gymnasts. In the team competition each gymnast performs on every piece of equipment, and the team with the highest number of points wins. There is also a separate competition for the all-around title, which goes to the gymnast with the highest point total after performing on each piece of equipment, and a competition to determine the highest score for each individual apparatus.
Another type of competitive gymnastics for women is called rhythmic gymnastics, an Olympic sport since 1984. Acrobatic skills are not used. The rhythmic gymnast performs graceful, dancelike movements while holding and moving items such as a ball, hoop, rope, ribbon, or Indian clubs, with musical accompaniment. Routines are performed individually or in group performances for six gymnasts.
Gymnastic competitions are judged and scored on both an individual and a team basis. Each competitor must accomplish a required number of specific types of moves on each piece of equipment. Judges award points to each participant in each event on a 0-to-10 scale, 10 being perfect. Judging is strictly subjective however, guidelines are provided for judges so that they can arrive at relatively unbiased scores.
Usually there are four judges, and the highest and lowest scores are dropped to provide a more objective evaluation. Gymnasts try to perform the most difficult routines in the most graceful way, thus impressing the judges with their mastery of the sport.
Bott, Jenny, Rhythmic Gymnastics (1995) Cooper, Phyllis S., and Trnka, Milan, Teaching Basic Gymnastics, 3d ed. (1993) Feeney, Rik, Gymnastics: A Guide for Parents and Athletes (1992) Karolyi, Bela, Feel No Fear (1994) Lihs, Harriet R., Teaching Gymnastics, 2d ed. (1994) YMCA Gymnastics, 3d ed. (1990).