When you control the narrative, you create the rules. And when it comes to Olympic sprinter Wyomia Tyus, it should come as no surprise that history has tried its best to cast yet another Black woman aside.
If I were to ask you, “Who was the first athlete to win back-to-back 100m gold medals?” I’m sure names like Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt would immediately come to mind. But while both Lewis and Bolt were premiere athletes, you’d be dead-ass wrong. Because the correct answer is Tyus, who accomplished this feat in 1968 during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City.
So why in the hell haven’t you heard of her?
Call it a hunch, but probably because of a combination of her political activism, overt racism, and omnipresent patriarchy. During the 1968 Olympics, instead of rocking team-issued white shorts, she demonstrated her support for the Olympic Project for Human Rights by wearing black ones instead. This, coupled with the fact that she was an otherworldly Black athlete during a time that white folks wanted no parts of giving us our due—in addition to the fact that media wasn’t anywhere near as developed or pervasive as it is today—factored heavily into why you’ve probably never even heard of her.
“Nobody really cared about the women,” Tyus told the Washington Post last year. “People now say, ‘Wow, you won back-to-back 100 meters.’ But nobody was thinking that back then. The press never talked to me about it.”
Her protests were also overshadowed by the attention that fellow sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos drew when they infamously raised their fists at the medal podium.
“I was wearing the shorts long before Tommie and Carlos did their victory stand protest,” she told the Post. “But women were not heard or spoken to, and Black women definitely were not. People said, ‘What’s she doing?’”
This would be a reoccurring theme in Tyus’ story: In 1988, after winning a second consecutive gold medal in the 100m, Carl Lewis was exalted as the first to do it—despite the fact that a 23-year-old Tyus did the exact same thing 20 years prior.
So where is her recognition?
“I guarantee you, you can ask people and they would not say [I was the first to do that],” Tyus told World Athletics in October. “They’re going to say either Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt. But you think about what I did. It took some 20 years before someone else even tied the record and close to 50 years before they broke it.”
Find the lie.
It was Lewis who replicated her accomplishment in 1988, and Bolt who surpassed it in 2016 when he won his third straight 100m at the Summer Olympics in Rio. But while Lewis and Bolt went on to become household names, Tyus, with no mechanism or fanfare to leverage her Olympic success, left track and field behind to become a housewife and teacher, per Yahoo.
So while history has tried its best to bury Tyus’ accomplishments, here at The Root, we don’t play that shit.
“I know one thing,’’ she told the Post. “If they speak of the 100, they also have to speak of me and what I did because I was the first.”
Say it again for the people in the back. And the rest of y’all join me in giving this unheralded Black queen her flowers. Because her story is our history.