In honor of Black History Month & the Winter Olympics I thought it would be the perfect time to highlight African American athletes who have made U.S. history in the major sports arena –
- Ice Skating – Debi Thomas became the first African American to win the women’s title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1986. Ms. Thomas later attended Stanford University and followed by Northwestern University Medical School. She was named to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and currently works as an orthopedic surgeon. Additionally, Thomas is an active supporter of several charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation.
- Bobsled Event – Vonetta Flowers became the first African American gold medalist in the history of the Winter Olympic Games. She won the inaugural women’s two-person bobsled event (along with her partner Jull Brakken) in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ms. Flowers also holds the honor of being the 1st person of African descent (male or female) – FROM ANY COUNTRY – to win a GOLD medal in the Winter Olympics!
- Track & Field – John Baxter Taylor Jr. is the 1st African American to win an Olympic Gold Medal EVER! An Ivy League graduate, Taylor’s ran track for the University of Pennsylvania and his stride measured 8 feet 6 inches, the longest of any runner yet known at that time. During one of his biggest races, Taylor was deliberately fouled by one of the contestants, but he refused to fight back and after winning the race was so loudly applauded that hundreds of Southern gentlemen rushed up and shook him by the hand, an almost unheard-of thing for a white man in the South.” In the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, he brought home the gold in the medley relay team event.
- Swimming – Maritza Correia is the first African American woman to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic swim team. In 2004, she helped secure the silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay at the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. At the suggestion of her doctor, Correia started swimming when she was just 7 years old. She had scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, and swimming helped mitigate the effects of her disorder. Initially therapeutic, swimming soon became Correia’s passion. She continues to promote the sport as a spokesperson for USA Swimming and for the Women’s Sports Foundation. Traveling around the country, Correia often discusses her experiences with inner-city kids and encourages them to give swimming a try.
- Hockey – Michael Grier Is a trailblazer of sorts as the first African-American player, born and trained in the United States, to make it to the NHL. He was quoted as saying “I was very fortunate to be able to play 14 seasons in the NHL with some great players.” “The memories and friendships that I have built during my time in the league will last a lifetime. I would like to thank my former teammates, family and fans for helping make my career so memorable for me.”