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Next stop Paris: U.S. Olympic Team heading to Summer Games

Jimmy Myers
Next stop Paris: U.S. Olympic Team heading to Summer Games
Olympian Fred Richard shown here competing for the Michigan Wolverines. PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

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Two names with significantly different purposes yet identical goals highlight the roster of the United States Olympic team that will compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Paris, France, beginning on July 26. Frederick Richard Jr., from Stoughton, Massachusetts, is the first Black man to lead the U.S. men’s gymnastics squad. Richard, the subject of a feature article in the Banner last year, has risen to the lofty position of “Best All-Around American Gymnast” following his brilliant season of work at the University of Michigan, which netted him his 1st NCAA Division One National Championship.

Olympic sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson is all smiles after her win. PHOTO: LSU ATHLETICS

Looking back to my interview with Richard, who was just 19 and coming off a Bronze Medal performance in the World Championship Games in Belgium, I remember being impressed by his poise, character, and determination to complete his mission of winning a Gold Medal at the Paris Olympic Games. He made it clear that his focus was on a Gold Medal hanging around his neck as he stood on the top tier of the Olympic podium.

“As much as I want to win Gold for me, it is much more important to do it for my family who has supported me throughout my quest,” Richard said. It was a quest that began with loving parents, Carl and Ann-Marie Richard, trying to harness the ball of energy that was packed into the 10-year-old frame of young Fred.

I could not help but feel joy for the Richard family, pictured during the national telecast of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. There were tears of joy and jubilation for the entire Richard family when young Frederick was officially named champion of the U.S. men’s team. It was a journey that encompassed the Richard Family traveling thousands of miles to different parts of the world to support their gifted son, finally coming to its penultimate destination. The final destination — a Gold Medal end to his remarkable journey — is now in sight for Fred Richard Jr.

At the other end of the Olympic spectrum stands Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast and one of, if not the finest, American athlete of her generation. Biles openly admits that this Olympics is “definitely our redemption tour,” immediately after sewing up her third trip to the Olympics by dominating the U.S. trials.

Three-time world champion hurdler Grant Holloway is Olympic-bound. PHOTO: JENARAGON94

Biles, who at 27 is the oldest American woman to make an Olympic Gymnastics team since the 1950s, seems to be at the top of her game again — posting a two-day total score of 117.225 to claim the all-around women’s title by nearly six points over Sunisa Lee.  Lee gained international fame when she took Gold in the Tokyo Games in 2020 following Biles’s withdrawal from competition due to a medical condition called “the Twisties.” One would think that Simone Biles would be granted some grace after her courageous stand, but that was not the case. She was vilified as a “quitter” in some circles. Biles has moved past those two gut-wrenching weeks in Japan three years ago when she prioritized her mental health and safety over glory, a decision that inspired some and angered others. A side story here is that Suni Lee wants to prove that her 2020 Gold Medal (in Biles’ absence) was no fluke, while other Women’s U.S. Gymnastics team members will be vying for their own moments of glory.

However, the spotlight belongs to Simone Biles, who has been a global sensation since bursting onto the international stage in 2013. She will lead the oldest American women’s team to the Olympic Games. Between her performances at the Olympics and in World Championship competition, she has won 19 medals, making her the most decorated American gymnast of all time, but to some specific segments of the American public, she still must prove her worth. It’s a sad but realistic thought.

Gymnastics, track and field, and basketball are the major events that attract the most interest among Black people.

Sydney McLaughlin

The sport of wrestling will also draw some interest with three Black athletes competing: 23-year-old Aaron Brooks, a four-time consecutive NCAA Champion, who upset reigning World and Olympic Champion Dave Taylor to clinch a spot on his first Olympic team (Men’s Freestyle 86 kg); 20-year-old Kennedy Blades (Women’s Freestyle 76 kg); and Kamal Bey, 26, a late addition to the Olympic roster, earning his place in late June after several quota spots were reallocated by United World Wrestling (Greco Roman 77kg).

Noah Lyles, Sydney Mclaughlin-Levrone, Sha’Carri Richardson, Masai Russell, Grant Holloway, and Gabby Thomas are the headliners in the track competition.

Lyles will attempt to achieve Gold in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, which would give him the title of “Fastest Man in the World.” We have not heard of or given serious thought to this race since Jamaican Usain Bolt’s dominance from 2008 to the 2016 Olympic Games.

Four-time NCAA champion wrestler Aaron Brooks will compete in Paris for the U.S. PHOTO: PENN STATE ATHLETICS

Sidney Mcglaughlin-Levrone will defend her Olympic Gold Medal title following another record-setting performance in her signature event — the 400-meter hurdles. She ran away from the field, breaking her world record with a time of 50.65, thus becoming the only woman in history to run sub-51 in the 400-meter hurdles — the second time she has pulled off the feat in her illustrious career.

The great comeback award goes to heptathlete, Anna Hall. After breaking her foot during a hurdles race in 2021 and undergoing knee surgery this year, she won the Olympic heptathlete trials competition and is also heading to Paris.

The United States men’s basketball team includes multiple Gold Medal winners, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and single Gold Medal recipients, Anthony Davis, Jason Tatum, Jrue Holiday, Bam Adebayo, and Devin Booker. They join first-timers Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Tyrese Haliburton, and Anthony Edwards. Steve Kerr, Mark Few, and Tyronn Lue will coach the team.

Athletic reputations are gained and lost on the international stage of the Olympic Games. In the case of Simone Biles, there is hope that she can regain the spotlight she so richly deserves. Her next stop is Paris, France, for the 2024 Olympic Games.   

2024 Olympic Games, gymnastics, Paris Olympics, Sports, track and field, United States Olympic team