Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

8 Influential Black Athletes in Olympic History

Aug 02, 2021 11:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

A number of Black athletes are making history at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The road to excellence at the Olympics for Black athletes across the world has been filled with challenges. These 8 influential Black athletes in Olympic history have strived for success and stepped on the podium. 

Florence Griffith-Joyner

Known for her flamboyant style on the field, Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner set an all-time record as the fastest woman in the world at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul while competing in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, winning three gold medals and a silver. After retiring in 1989, Griffith Joyner established a foundation for underprivileged children, and from 1993 to 1995, served as the co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. A comeback attempt in 1996 ended following a leg injury. She was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995. Griffith Joyner remained a pop culture figure through endorsement deals, acting, and designing. She died in her sleep as the result of an epileptic seizure in 1998 at the age of 38.


Usain Bolt

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medallist. Bolt is the only sprinter to win Olympic 100-meter and 200-meter titles at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012 and 2016). He also won two 4 × 100 relay gold medals. Bolt set a world record in the men’s 100-meter, 200-meter, and the 4×100 meter relay during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. His achievements as a sprinter have earned him the media nickname "Lightning Bolt", and his awards include the IAAF World Athlete of the Year, Track & Field Athlete of the Year, BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year (three times) and Laureus World Sportsman of the Year (four times).


Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. in fencing and the first U.S. Olympic athlete to compete in a hijab during the summer 2016 Olympics. The fencing champ also became the first female Muslim-American athlete to win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the team saber event at the summer games in Rio. Muhammad has penned two books about her life growing up in New Jersey and her Olympic experience. Barbie’s first doll fencer was designed after her. She is also a sports ambassador, serving on the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative.


Godfrey Khotso Mokoena

Godfrey Khotso Mokoena is a South African athlete who specializes in the long jump and triple jump. Originally competing in the triple jump, winning the World Junior title in 2004 and the silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, he switched to long jump in 2007 after an ankle injury. Mokoena’s first Olympics was the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. He won his first medal at the 2008 Olympics, coming in 2nd in the men's long jump.


Simone Biles

Simone Arianne Biles is American gymnast who was considered one of the sport’s greatest athletes. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she became the first female U.S. gymnast to win four gold medals at a single Olympic games, and she was the first gymnast to win three consecutive world all-around titles between 2013 and 2015. With 19 Olympic and world championship medals, she’s the most-decorated American gymnast in history. Biles also bypassed Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus to become the gymnast with the most world championship medals at 25 medals. 


Josia Thugwane

Josia Thugwane is a South African long-distance runner, best known for winning the gold medal in the marathon at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Thugwane, who is of Ndebele heritage, is the first Black athlete to earn an Olympic gold for South Africa. Thugwane was shot and injured in a carjacking just five months before the race. In that moment, as his arms windmilled their way over the finishing line in America, anything seemed possible. Thugwane had a very successful year in 1997 winning the Fukuoka Marathon. He won the AIMS Best Marathon Runner award that year. He was awarded the Silver Order of Ikhamanga, South Africa's second-highest cultural honour, in 2011.


Wayde van Niekerk

Wayde van Niekerk is a South African track and field sprinter who competes in the 200-meter and 400-meter events. In the 2016 Olympic games men's 400m, Van Niekerk won the gold medal with a world record time of 43.03 seconds. In 2016, Van Niekerk became the first sprinter in history to have run the 100-meters in under 10 seconds, 200-meters in under 20 seconds, and 400-meters in under 44 seconds. In November, he won the Association of National Olympic Committees Best Male Athlete of the Rio 2016 Olympics award.


Gabby Douglas

Gabrielle Douglas is a US women's artistic gymnast. At the 2012 London Summer Olympics, she won gold medals in both the team and individual all-around competitions.Douglas made history at as the first woman of color to win gold in the all-around competition at 16-years-old. In addition, she is the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual and team all-around competition. In December 2012, the Associated Press named Douglas the Female Athlete of the Year, -  the fourth gymnast to receive the honor. Gymnastic equipment used by Douglas at the 2012 Summer Olympics is at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.



Black Enterprise




Team USA

The South African

 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content. 

Read more from Boitumelo Masihleho:

6 Black Cyclists You Need To Know About

6 Black Cyclists, You Need To Know About

These six Black cyclists have made a name for themselves on their two-wheelers despite the racial challenges and are doing all they can to make way for future Black cyclists. Read More » 


Naomi Osaka Launches Skincare Brand for Melanated Skin

Superstar tennis athlete Naomi Osaka is making sure that melanated skin remains protected against the sun with a new skincare brand. Learn more about what KINLÒ will offer. Read More » 


South Africa’s Shining Athlete - Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya is a born-winner but her successful career on the track has been filled with controversy. She has maintained an excellent level of sportsmanship and continued to be a role ... Read More »