Competitive AF: Top Five Iconic Black Olympians

The Olympics has always been hallowed ground for Black history as athletes from the diaspora have shone through their athletic prowess. From historic firsts to generational talents, here are the top five Black Olympians whose impact is timeless.

Simone Biles and Carl Lewis are two iconic Black Olympians.
Gymnast Simone Biles, Track & Field pioneer Carl Lewis are among the Top 5 most iconic and influential Black Olympians in history. (Photo: Getty Images)


1. Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera, Rugby, First Black Person To Win A Gold Medal

Constantin Henriquez de Zubiera is the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in the Olympics. The Haitian-born athlete competed for France in the 1900 Olympics and won a gold medal in The Olympic Crunch. Born Lionel Henriquez, in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, “around 1876-1877,” per his grandson, Henriquez was sent by his politician father to France in 1893 to study medicine. It was there that he discovered rugby.

Having already won a university pole vault title, Henriquez was prime for rugby, playing the number-eight position, responsible for making big tackles, carrying the ball through the defensive line, and providing support to backs. Then in October 1900, an Olympic qualifying tournament between three teams representing France, Germany and England was organized.

Henriquez was added to the Olympic team representing France, and after defeating Germany 27-17, France defeated England 27-8 two weeks later at the first “Olympic crunch” to win the gold medal.


2. George Coleman Poage, Track & Field, First African-American to Win Olympic Medal

George Coleman Poage is a breakout academic and athletic star who made his name in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and catapulted before the eyes of the world in the early 1900s. While a history student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he placed first in the 440-yard dash and the 220-yard hurdles in 1904, becoming the first African American champion in Big Ten Conference track history.

That caught the attention of the Milwaukee Athletic Club, whose members sponsored him for the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis. There was a boycott over segregated viewing facilities for fans, but Poage competed anyway. He won bronze in the 200-meter and 400-meter hurdles becoming the first African-American to win Olympic medals.

3. Jesse Owens, Track and Field Boss Gives It To Berlin

The defiance of Jesse Owens’s athletic brilliance at the 1936 Olympics debunked the racist ideology of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. What he would achieve should have come as no surprise since just a year earlier, in 1935, he set three world records within an hour at a Michigan meet, a feat yet to be equaled.

With the pride of the so-called Aryan race at stake, Owens won gold medals in the long jump, the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and the 4 x 100-meter relay. He is the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games, defying Hitler’s theory of a “master race.”

4. Simone Biles, Gymnastics Queen

It would be best to mention Simone Biles before discussing the Olympics because she owns it. She topped her remarkable gymnastics career at the 2020 Tokyo Games with seven medals, including four golds. She is now the most accomplished American gymnast in history. She also has 32 medals from the World Championship, with 19 gold. She is the first American woman to win seven national all-around titles and the first female gymnast to earn three consecutive World All-Around titles. Simply the best.


5. Carl Lewis, Track & Field, The OG

One of the most decorated athletes of all time, Carl Lewis defined track and field from the late ’70s through the mid-’90s, having won 10 Olympic medals, including nine gold, and 10 World Championships medals, including eight gold.

His athletic career spanned almost 20 years, from 1979 to 1996, when he was the dominant sprinter and long jumper, topping the world rankings in the 100m, 200m and long jump. At the height of his dominance, Carl Lewis was also one of the most marketable athletes with a million-dollar smile and captivating persona.

Back to top