Today’s Black History Month spotlight is all about black women and their contributions to the sports world.
Hidden figures no more: Black women have made names for themselves in every field from science to the arts, so it’s no surprise that there’s a ton of #BlackGirlMagic in sports, too.
Black women are strong as hell, and runner Wilma Rudolph is proof. Not only did Rudolph overcome childhood polio, but she went on to win three Olympic gold medals at the 1960 games in Rome, the first African-American woman to earn that accomplishment.
59 years ago today, on July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson won the women's singles title at Wimbledon and became the first African American to win the tournament. She is pictured here in France the prior year in 1956, where she won the French title. (Thomas D. McAvoy—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images) #LIFElegends #AltheaGibson #Wimbledon
Althea Gibson was a pioneer for black women in tennis, becoming the first African-American player to win tournaments like Wimbledon and U.S. Nationals. Her 11 Grand Slam titles set the stage for two successful sisters who have come to be known as the faces of tennis: Venus and Serena Williams.
The Williams sisters shot to fame in the early 2000s playing both together and separately and forever changing the face of women in tennis. Even though they rose through the ranks as on-the-court partners, they have become individual stars in their own rights.
Serena has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, making her the tennis player with the most major wins in the Open Era (aka since 1968), and the World Tennis Association has ranked her No. 1 on seven occasions. Serena is also the only tennis player to have won 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades.
Back in 2002, Venus was the first African-American woman to be ranked No. 1 in the Open Era. She’s also the all-time leader among men and women in Grand Slams played, at 73. Casual accomplishments.
Speaking of firsts, WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to sign with the women’s league when it made its debut. The three-time MVP and three-time Olympic gold medalist was named the AP Female Athlete of the Year and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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Gymnast Gabby Douglas put her sport back into the public conscious (and put some respek on her name) when she became the first African American in Olympic history to become the individual all-around gymnastics champion. She also became the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic games.
This past summer, two more Olympians became household names with their gold medal-winning performances on the world stage. Simone Biles and Simone Manuel brought home gold medals in gymnastics and swimming, respectively, and made history.
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Biles took home four gold medals in the team and all-around competitions as well as the floor and vault exercise in Rio. The addition of these medals to her collection–she has a total of 19, FYI–made Biles the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history.
Manuel, a two-time NCAA swimming champion, became the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming and to tie for first place, alongside Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, with a final time of 52.70 seconds.