With 100 days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio, everyone is revving up the excitement of what this year’s summer games will bring!
From returning gold medalists such as Gabrielle Douglas and Tamika Catchings, to Olympic first timers such as Simone Biles and Ibtihaj Muhammad, athletes along with their families and fans filled 30 Rockefeller Plaza to celebrate and continue the countdown to August 5th.
Throughout history, women and athletes of color from the United States have shone their light on the Olympic stage in spite of those who were opposed to their participation in the past. These athletes are still breaking ground and are all set to make history in August.
In 2012, Gabrielle Douglas became the first woman of color of any nationality and the first African-American gymnast to win the Individual All-Around Champion title. This year, she will be the first to return to defend her crown. Douglas is excited about competing and having the opportunity to “interact with the other athletes and get to know about their sport and their background,” she says. Who were her inspirations growing up? Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes and her mother.
Natalie, Gabrielle’s mom, also joined her in the Big Apple. Soon to be co-starring in a reality show Douglas Family Gold, Natalie is also highly anticipating the Rio events. She is still surprised when she is recognized by fans across the world, though she is very thankful for all of the support. “When we feel everyone cheering and everybody lifting us up, it really does help,” Natalie shared.
Originally from Gary, Indiana Natalie’s mom showed her the importance of hard work, which she passed on to all four of her children (Gabrielle is the youngest). “Perseverance is key. No matter what obstacles, no matter what difficulties you face, always keep pressing towards your goal,” Natalie effused. She remembers when her daughter, Arielle, persuaded her to get Gabby into Gymnastics, “I didn’t [at first] because Arielle [also in gymnastics] had broken her wrist in two places, and I was like ‘I can’t put the baby in gymnastics. This is dangerous.’ But then, when I saw Gabrielle refuse to stop flipping and jumping and breaking stuff, I thought I’d better put her in [gymnastics lessons] before she breaks herself. So I put her in gymnastics and the rest is history.”
Natalie’s warm spirit spreads wide as she supports all the Team USA athletes, including Simone Biles. Simone looks up to Gabby and the Fierce Five as some of her inspirations. As a 3-time World All-Around champion before her 20th birthday, Simone is now inspiring thousands of others to go after their largest dreams. Simone has won 14 World Championships medals (including 10 golds) – the most ever in U.S. gymnastics history, in the last 3 years. A lover of pizza and puppies, Simone has great expectations and looks forward to all that’s ahead of her on her journey to Brazil.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is also headed to her first Olympic games and is also not new to international honors. Most recently recognized by Time as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2016, Muhammed is excited to represent her country and wants to make everyone proud. “I remember being a kid and feeling ostracized because I was different. Whether that being African-American in a sport that was predominantly white, or being a Muslim youth and choosing to observe the hijab,” Muhammad shares. She added, “In finding fencing, I was able to find this safe place where once I put on my fencing mask, I was known more so for my skill set than my race, or my religion or my gender even and that was a powerful thing for me as a kid. It made me feel really empowered from a very young age.”
Knowing the significant impact that sports had on her life and most women, especially young girls, Muhammad serves on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative and travels around the world to converse with countries regarding sports and education
WNBA All-Star and three-time gold medalist Tamika Catchings is also a stellar advocate for women in sports as she has helped thousands through her Catch a Star Foundation and other charitable initiatives. Turning 37 in July, she will be the oldest U.S. player ever in Olympic women’s basketball when competition opens Aug. 6 at Rio de Janeiro. Named one of the top 15 WNBA players, Tamika has been with USA Basketball for the last 20 years, and will be retiring once the 2016 WNBA season ends. Before that, she still is set to go after another championship and win another Gold medal for Team USA. “When we come together it’s all about one goal and that’s to win a gold medal,” she shares.
With their eyes on the prize, nothing can stop these women as they and their teammates go to compete on the international stage. We look forward to watching their journey unfold over the next 100 days and beyond.