It’s about that time, again: The Summer Olympic Games officially kick off in Tokyo on Friday.
Whether you’re a casual fan of the festivities, mainly into it to see what pops off and what narratives unfold, or if you’re a die-hard Olympic fan that can rattle off the number of gold medals each participating country has amassed since the days those dudes from Chariots of Fire were out there running in slow motion, there will certainly be something to keep you invested from beginning to end.
If you don’t fit into either of those categories, but are rather on an “I’m rooting for everybody Black” kick, look no further. This slideshow is here to help you.
While we won’t be able to see the transcendent talents of Sha’Carri Richardson, Serena Williams, Brianna McNeal, and various other Black athletes representing Team USA and other countries this year, there’s still plenty of people doing what they do best that will be extremely exciting to watch.
Here’s a few that come to mind.
1. Gabby Thomas, Track and Field (USA)
I told you once and now I’ma tell you again: Remember Gabby Thomas’ name.
If you remember–which, how could you forget?–she recorded the second-fastest finishing time in the history of the women’s 200-meter dash last month. The late, great Florence Griffith-Joyner still remains the all-time fastest at the event at 21.94 seconds. Thomas clocked in just a few seconds behind at 21.61.
Not only does she have a chance to beat her own record in Tokyo, but the opportunity to top FloJo remains, too.
2. Naomi Osaka, Tennis (Japan)
After taking some time away from recent competitions to tend to her own personal well-being, the world’s No. 2 ranked women’s tennis player said she will be present at the Games–representing her home country of Japan.
First off, it should be reiterated that Osaka’s decision to put her mental health first and tennis second was a commendable decision. This needs to be reiterated because there’s too many of y’all that went out here and acted a plumb fool after she announced she wasn’t participating in the news conferences at the French Open (She ultimately withdrew from that tournament and from Wimbledon).
If more people prioritized their mental health, imagine how much more functional of a society we would be. Imagine it!!!!
Secondly, now that she’s rested and ready, prayers up for anyone in her path.
3. Simone Biles, Gymnastics (USA)
What more can be said about the GOAT? Seriously. What more?
Here’s a summation of Biles’ GOATiness by The Root’s own Jay Connor:
When you become the first woman to complete something as insanely difficult as a Yurchenko Double Pike, it’s safe to say that your reputation precedes you. And that’s exactly the case with four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, who automatically qualified for the Tokyo Olympics because duh, nigga.
Just the other day, word got out that Biles is tending to an ankle injury as the opening ceremonies rapidly approach. It should be noted that she won her seventh title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships days after she announced her ankle issues, so...it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing her down any time soon.
I know for a fact that I would be in bed, with three ice packs on my ankle, eating Ben & Jerry’s while it healed if I were in the same situation. The fact that she just kept on going out there winning titles despite being injured is just another obvious reason that she’s literally the best to ever do this gymnastics thing.
4. Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding (USA)
This is the first Olympic Games that will recognize skateboarding as an official event, meaning we’ll get a chance to see Nyjah Huston take on the world’s best.
According to For The Win, the 26-year-old from California is currently the No. 1 ranked world tour skater and is the favorite to take home the gold in the men’s street category. He’s also a four-time world champion, and a highly-decorated X Games medalist, and even appeared as a playable character in the remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 that came out last year.
Look, if you’re out here kicking it with virtual Tony Hawk, then you know you’re big time.
5. Erriyon Knighton, Track and Field (USA)
This dude is 17 and broke not one, but TWO of Usain Bolt’s records in the 200-meter dash during the June Olympic Trials.
The wild thing is, as USA Today reports, Knighton only started participating in track and field just three years ago when he was a freshman.
He said this to Track & Field News back in February:
“It’s only my third season running track. I’ve been extremely successful in both training and competition. I believe if I work hard, I will eventually develop to be a world-class athlete. I’m soaking it all up, all the knowledge.”
It’s safe to say he did that, and then some.
6. The Nigeria Men’s National Basketball Team
Nigeria’s men’s basketball team is dope. Please ignore Stephen A. Smith, his gigantic forehead and his season one of Family Matters Carl Winslow hairline.
This squad–which features NBA players like Jahlil Okafor, Gabe Vincent and Precious Achiuwa, among others–surprised Team USA with a 90-87 exhibition victory, during which Achiuwa stuffed Kevin Durant at the rim and followed it by posting a photo on Instagram with the caption “You’re not that guy, pal.”
Who’s to say how far Nigeria will actually go in Tokyo? We’ll have to see how it all unfolds. All I’m saying here is that these dudes are fun to watch, have an excellent social media presence and, as ESPN reports, “refuse to accept that defeat against higher-ranked opposition as an inevitability.” Much respect.
7. Sydney McLaughlin, Track and Field (USA)
Here’s The Root’s Jay Connor, again:
I don’t know what in the hell Sydney ate for breakfast, but on Sunday (June 27) night at the U.S. Olympic track trials, the 21-year-old sprinkled some Lawry’s on her competitors, tossed them in a skillet, and cooked every last one of their motherfucking asses in the 400-meter hurdles.
According to the Associated Press, she outdueled fan-favorite Dalilah Muhammad in the event and finished with an absurd time of 51.90 seconds—coincidentally obliterating Muhammad’s previous world record by 0.26.
“She definitely pushes me,” Muhammad said of McLaughlin following their race. “Congratulations, you world record holder. It’s going to be a battle in Tokyo for sure.”
8. Alice Dearing, Swimming (United Kingdom)
Dearing announced on Twitter back in June that her selection to Team GB made her the first Black woman to ever represent Great Britain in swimming.
She said this to British Swimming after finishing fourth in the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier:
“When I was younger, I never really thought about being an Olympian - I thought ‘oh wow, it would be so cool’, but I knew how much hard work went into it and honestly didn’t think I was cut out for it. So I’m really proud to have proved myself wrong, in a way, and to achieve beyond my wildest dreams.”
9. Simone Manuel, Swimming (USA)
After initially failing to qualify during the Olympic Trials for the 100 freestyle–the event that she won a gold medal in back in 2016–Manuel staged a huge comeback during the 50 freestyle qualifiers and punched her ticket to Tokyo.
Manuel told USA Today that the reason she struggled during the 100 free was due to being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier this year. It forced her to miss two months of training before the trials.
Later, speaking to USA Today again, she said coming forth with that diagnosis helped lift a weight off of her shoulders going into the 50 free qualifier.
“More than anything I’m relieved just to be back on the team,” Manuel said, “and having another opportunity to swim for Team USA is just a blessing.”
We love to see it!
10. Delilah Muhammad, Track and Field (USA)
Sydney McLaughlin may have zipped past her 400-meter hurdles record at Trials, but don’t count Delilah Muhammad out in Tokyo.
Not only is she the event’s defending Olympic champion, but when she initially set the world record back in 2016, she did WHILE IT WAS RAINING.
While that’s impressive to me and undoubtedly many others, to Muhammad, it was just another race. She said this to the New York Times:
“I thought I’d feel this great sense of accomplishment and this great sense of ‘oh my God, this is so amazing,’” she said of the record a few days before she left her home in the Los Angeles area for Doha. “But in reality, it’s kind of like: What’s next? But more so on the negative side: What am I going to find to push me now?”
Whatever that push may be, it’ll be exciting to bear witness to it.