Whether flipping, backstroking, lunging, or kicking, these 10 black U.S. Olympians have all excelled at sports traditionally devoid of minority competitors.
Their extraordinary journeys from the the fencing strip, the Tae Kwon Do mat, and the balance beam to the 2012 Olympic games in London demonstrate that athletic excellence knows no boundaries, or color.
After almost drowning at the age of 5, Cullen Jones made it his goal to conquer the water. Now, at 28 years old, Jones has become one of the fastest freestyle sprinters in the country, taking home the gold and setting a world record at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As the second African American male swimmer to qualify for the Olympics and to win a gold medal, Jones will be diving back into this year's games in London, where he could possibly shatter even more records.
When it comes to swinging and flying through the air, John Orozco would certainly give Spider Man a run for his money. The 19-year-old has already made history as one of the few black male gymnast to ever grace the Olympic floormats. Growing up in the Bronx, Orozco overcame incessant taunting from his fellow classmates to eventually become an Olympic contender, just as he had dreamed as a child. "The minute I stepped foot in the gym I just loved it. I knew it was what I wanted to do for a long time," Orozco <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/26/us/john-orozco-olympic-gold/index.html" target="_hplink">told</a> CNN. CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Orozco was the first African-American male to have made the U.S. men's gymnastics team. There have been several black male members of the U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics squads before.
Accurately nicknamed "McFierce," Tae Kwon Do Olympian Paige McPherson is not someone you would want to make angry. A surprise qualifier for this year's games, she flipped any assumptions viewers may have had when she defeated 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah. The 21-year-old is half Filipino, half African American, and originally from Sturgis, South Dakota. One of five adopted kids, McPherson may continue to kick down preconceived notions on the mat at the 2012 Olympics.
Only the second African American woman to represent U.S. swimming in the Olympics, Lia Neal has successfully proven that race is not a factor even in a sport traditionally devoid of blacks. The pioneering 17-year-old hails from Brooklyn, raised by an African American father and a Chinese American mother. "There was a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of determination, for the child," Neals mother <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/sports/olympics/olympic-swimmer-lia-neal-built-her-dream-in-brooklyn.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">told</a> <em>The New York Times</em>
Daryl Homer is one of the U.S. Fencing team's secret weapons at this year's Olympic games. After spotting a picture of the sport in a dictionary at age 10, the Bronx native decided he would become a world-class fencer. With the help of his mother and <a href="http://www.peterwestbrook.org/" target="_hplink">The Peter Westbrook Foundation</a>, an organization that uses the sport to help develop life skills in young people, Homer determinedly worked towards his aspirations. Now he is a two-time NCAA national title holder, three-time fencing world champion, and currently ranked #1 in the US and #12 in the world. As the youngest member on the U.S.A. Olympic Men's Sabre Team competing in London this year, this breakout athlete fences to win.
Daryl Homer's fellow New York fencer Nzingha Prescod has been making major strides in the fencing world as well. Born and raised in Brooklyn, 19-year-old Prescod understands the significance of having an African American wielding a sword for the U.S.A. at this year's Olympic games. In fact, when she's not slaying the competition around the globe, she's advocating for more Black youth to get into the sport. "Sports like basketball and football, where a lot of people compete in it, it's a really competitive field," Prescod <a href="http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/olympian-nzingha-prescod-lunges-for-the-gold" target="_hplink">told</a> EBONY.com in a recent interview. "Fencing is a smaller community so there are more chances to do well, to get somewhere, and to be really successful."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/gymnast-gabrielle-douglas_n_1609565.html" target="_hplink">Gabby Douglas</a>, also known as "Flying Squirrel," has reinvigorated black communities worldwide, all of which are eager to watch the 16-year-old gymnast soar in a sport lacking many black competitors. As a member of the U.S. Olympic women's gymnastics team, Douglass has sparked a huge amount of media attention for the sport at this year's games. Already dubbed as the next Dominique Dawes, she is posed to make even more headlines come competition time. "I learned about being a competitor," she <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/gymnastics/story/2012-05-23/gabby-douglas-womens-gymnastics/55174756/1" target="_hplink">told</a> USA Today. "No one is going to feel sorry for you. No one is going to be like, 'Oh, you fell.' You have to go out there and be fierce."
Sometimes a loss is not a failure, but a blessing in disguise. After failing to qualify for long jump in the 2000 Olympic games, Vonetta Flowers decided to go for the gold in a sport very rarely watched, not to mention performed, by African Americans in the country--bobsledding. Only two years later, Flowers scored a gold medal for competing at the Salt Lake CIty 2002 games.
Venus and Serena Williams
The dynamic sister duo Venus and Serena Williams hardly need any introduction. Between their many Wimbledon wins and Olympic medals, they have long since gone down in sports history. Originally from Compton where young blacks are believed to be more interested in holding weapons than rackets, the Williams sisters show just how little color has to do with athletic excellence. Serena and Venus could add some more hardware to their ever-growing collection, which includes two doubles gold medals won in 2000 and 2008. At a recent press conference, Venus Williams <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/olympics/article-2178348/London-Olympics-2012-Serena-Venus-Williams-welcome-Wimbledon-return.html" target="_hplink">said</a>: "When you're at tournaments and they announce your name and it has 'Olympian' and 'gold medallist' behind you, it's such a thrill and not something you ever get over."
Before the Williams sister graced the green courts, there was Zina Garrison. This former tennis player took home a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, where she conquered the women's doubles. Being a champion black tennis player did take a toll on the young star, who others constantly slated to become "the next Althea Gibson." In spite of all the challenges facing her, Garrison made a name for herself by blowing away all her competition. Her outstanding career achievements include a runner-up Wimbledon title and more than a few Grand Slam wins.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Orozco was the first African-American male to have made the U.S. men's gymnastics team. There have been several black male members of the U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics squads before