Female Athletes Who Overcame Adversity While Making Olympic History
Training for the Olympics is already a challenge, but it's made even more difficult when you have the odds stacked against you. Let's take a look at some of the 2016 female athletes who have made Olympic history despite their circumstances and hardships.
1. Simone Biles
Texas native Simone Biles, 19, is a three-time world champion in the women’s all-around event and hasn't lost a competition since 2013. Born to a mother addicted to drugs and alcohol, Biles, along with her younger sister, were adopted by her maternal grandfather Ron and his wife Nellie when she was three. Being adopted was never an issue for her; it wasn't until a NBC commentator made a negative comment about it did the Internet respond. Family is family, and Biles didn't let it affect her as she led the Final Five to a team title.
Biles won gold in the women's gymnastics all-around, along with her entire team who took home gold for the Team Final event.
2. Kathleen Baker
Kathleen Baker qualified for the Olympics in the backstroke and is the first American Olympian with Crohn's disease. One of about 700,000 Americans has Crohn's disease, which is a chronic recalcitrant gastrointestinal inflammation. Baker was diagnosed with this illness at 13-years-old and has battled to prevent it from defining her ever since.
Baker took home silver for Team USA in the women's 100m backstroke.
3. Yusra Mardini
Syrian teen Yusra Mardini's journey for survival began long before the she could even think about the Olympics. She swam across the Mediterranean Sea pushing a boat full of refugees to the Lesbos shore. At the time Mardini, didn’t realize competing in the Olympics was just a stroke away.
She competed in swimming for the first all-refugee team in Rio. Mardini is ranks 45 in the women's 100m butterfly.
4. Lia Neal And Simone Manuel
Defying the stereotype of "black girls don't swim," Lia and Simone are the first black female swim duo on Team USA. These Stanford teammates are use to making history as Neal won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics in London. In 2015, Neal and Manuel were the top two Black people to place for the 100-yard freestyle during the Women’s NCAA swimming championships — Manuel came in first and Neal came in second.
In Rio, Neal and Manuel both took home silver in the Women’s 4x100 freestyle relay and Manuel made history as being the first Black woman to take home gold in an individual Olympic swimming event.
5. Ibtihaj Muhammad
With being one of the very few minorities in the sport of fencing, Ibithaj Muhammad became the first woman to compete in a hijab. Many women of the Muslim faith are scrutinized because of the headscarf and it some countries it’s a law for them to wear it. Growing up it was difficult for Muhammad to find a sport that was able to fit into her lifestyle and religion. Only after graduating college did she decide to really focus on fencing. Muhammad is showing the world that no matter you race or religion nothing can hinder you from achieving your goals.
Muhammad made history at Rio after she earned a bronze medal for the U.S. in the Team Sabre, becoming the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.
Yesterday I saw my biggest dream come true, competing at the Olympic Games. I am overwhelmed with happiness and feel so blessed for the opportunity to represent the United States on the world's biggest stage. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support throughout my journey. What a blessing to become the first American Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab! I am hopeful that this monumental moment in our history continues to encourage unity and respectful dialogue. All praises to the most high. Team USA and proud! #TeamUSA #ibtihajinRio #alhumdulilah
6. Kayla Harrison
Kayla Harrison made history by being the first American to ever win judo at the London Olympics. She was interested in judo since she was six years old but at the tender age of 13, things took a change for the worst. Harrison was sexually abused by her judo coach which led to her becoming emotional depressed and suicidal. Only after USA Judo banned her coach was she able to move on and continue training for her passion. After taking home the gold at the London Olympics, she defended her judo title in Rio, taking home gold for the consecutive time.
Ranked No. 1 in the world Harrison has retired as two-time Olympic Champion and an ultimate survivor.
7. Ashleigh Johnson
Ashleigh Johnson is the first and only black woman to compete in water polo. The 6-foot-1 Princeton goalie is not just the only minority on the team, but she is the only one not from California. Growing up in Miami, she decided to take swim lessons at an early age. Johnson inspires many black athletes and shows them they can excel. She says she's proud to be a role model to a group that would love the water polo if they knew more about it.
The women's USA water polo team competes against Hungary on August 13th.
8. Oksana Chusovitina
With an Olympic career spanning nearly a quarter of a century, Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina will be making history as the oldest gymnast to compete at the Olympics. The 41-year-old has already been to six Olympic games, competing internationally for the Soviet Union and Germany before switching back to Uzbekistan.
Not letting her age define her, Chusovitina ranks 5 in the women's vault.
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