Jul 24, 2021 - Sports

Biles and others propel Black participation in gymnastics

Simone Biles and a young fan

Simone Biles meets with fans in her home town at Kroger on September 30, 2016, in Houston, Texas. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Young athletes of color are increasingly compelled to pursue gymnastics as the faces of the most elite competitors reflect a more diverse collection of backgrounds.

The big picture: Women of color make up half of the members of Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics.and more than half of the 18 women asked to come to the Olympic trials in St. Louis last month were women of color, according to the Associated Press.

  • Simone Biles, of course, has transformed the identity and popularity of the sport as the most decorated gymnast in world championship history — winning 25 medals, including 19 golds, to date.
  • She is joined on the team by Jordan Chiles, who is also Black, and Sunisa Lee, who is Hmong American.
  • Participation numbers remain low on college gymnastics teams but even there, progress can be seen. Black women make up nearly 10% of scholarship athletes at the NCAA Division I level, a 3% increase from 2012. AP reports that more than 10% of USA Gymnastics member self-identify as Black.

What they're saying: "Simone has opened the eyes to so many women of color saying 'Hey, you can do this, too,'" said Cecile Landi, Biles’ co-coach, per AP. "It’s not just little skinny white girls that can do it. Anyone can do it. And then it’s a Black-owned business, so I think it attracts its own families that way."

  • "I remember calling my husband and saying 'Bruh, you will never guess,'" said Gina Chiles, the mother of Jordan, per AP. "At our home gym, Jordan was the only one. It was refreshing to be able to see people of all colors. But to see the amount of little Black girls doing gymnastics, it just did my heart so good. It’s hard to explain. It just felt like 'Wow.'"
  • "Representation does matter," Gina Chiles added. "And Simone has put her foot in it. She’s definitely set that path in a lot of ways. Whatever level you go to, you can be excellent at that level. And a lot of Black girls see that. And a lot of Black girls now want to be that."

Go deeper: When to watch Simone Biles, the G.O.A.T, at the Olympics

Go deeper