We know it was much more than Athing Mu’s “Confidence” hair pin that helped her to win the gold in the Women’s 800 meter track race for the US at the 2020-2021 Tokoyo Olympic Games. She trained well, practiced and earned the glory as first since 1968 to do so. Madeline Manning was the first American to win the 800m gold medal, and she is also African American. How fortunate that we have videos that have captured that important moment in history. We will hope that she considers writing a book to provide further insight and inspiration to her life. With trailblazers like Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Florence Griffith Joyner leading the way, I present a rich book list to expose children to our best and brightest track athletes.
It was exciting to listen to an interview on TODAY.com with Mims as she reflected on the games. She said she spoke with Athing Mu when she was 14 years old and encouraged her to stay focused on her goals. Mims competed in the 1968 Olympics Games which went down in history as the year Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to raise awareness about the inhumane treatment of Black people in the US. Mention of Mims’ victory took a back seat though she did make history as the first Black woman to win that race.
These and other stories have poured out of this year’s Olympics’ to hopefully inspire a new generation of Black track stars. We’re here for it all and delight in supporting the next generation with literature that has documented this history of success. It’s never too early to expose children to a possible path to follow for scholarships or even winning the gold. This list is certain to continue to grow after the trailblazing skills demonstrated by Athing Mu.
The winning streak of the Kenyans in the Olympic marathon has been synonymous with acquiring gold medals. In 2020, Eliud Kipchoge defended his medal successfully at the age of 36 and became the first man to ever run a marathon in less than 2 hours. However, when we check the documentation of this well known fact in children's literature, the Kenyan presence was noticeably unavailable. A single book called, “My Brother is a Runner” is the only one I could find that captures the tradition that started on the continent. This provides the impetus for African people around the globe to tell our own stories. If the quantity of children's literature was an indication of the legacy of excellence achieved in track and field, we wouldn't be well informed. Thankfully, we know better and can work to turn this around.
When a few books were published on Florence Griffith Joyner,” affectionately known as “Flo Jo” hit our shelves, it was cause for celebration. This occurred almost twenty years after her untimely death in 1998. To have made accomplishments of world record holder of the 100 and 200 meter races as she did without 100’s of brand endorsement deals seems impossible especially given her beauty and charm. The year 2016, however marked the first children’s book dedicated to her phenomenal record reaching the “pinnacle of track and field greatness.” I blogged about her in a previous article called, “ GIFTS FOR SPORTS FANS - BLM EDITION,” https://www.afriwarebooks.com/blog/gifts-for-sports-fans-blm. Thankfully her name has come up again recently because Elaine Thompson-Herah from Jamaica beat Flo Jo’s 30 year standing world record in the 100 meter race in this year’s Olympics.
The charismatic zeal of Usain Bolt of Jamaica captured our hearts and African pride when he got three Olympic gold medals in 2008 winning the 100m, 200m, and with his team for the 4x100m relay. His energetic competence was always on fire when he dropped his arms and leaned into his signature lightning bolt pose of victory as shown on the cover of the book titled in his name. I remember visiting Trinidad the year he won and the Carribean erupted with joy. Though I was born in America, I couldn’t help but cross over into the African glow and beam with joy for this tiny island. A victory for an African anywhere is a victory for Africans everywhere. After that performance, the sportscaster said, “who says lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.” He holds the title of “greatest sprinter of all time.”
When Wilma Rudolph was told by her doctor that she would never walk again after being diagnosed with polio and being unable to walk until the age of 12, who would've known she’d go on to win 3 Olympic gold medals in the 100m, 200m and with her team for the 100m, 200m, 400m relay. She shattered low expectations and blazed the trail for future generations. She was interviewed in a mini documentary on Youtube called “Wilma Rudolph.” She was the fastest woman of her time and thought of as “the queen of the athletes.” Thankfully there are several books capturing this important time in history with the earliest released in 2000.
Savoring our victories is of essential importance to help us through the barrage of negative media attention and societal atrocities that hang in the air outside of the Olympics season for Black people worldwide. Feeding our children with these real life examples of excellence serves as the mental and spiritual boost to help them on their journey. It is interesting how sports can be a unifying force and yet a dividing point at the same time. African Americans are allowed to be celebrated as heroes during the Olympics and as the castaways of society is part of the contradictory love-hate relationship America has with us. Therefore, it behooves African Americans and Africans worldwide to celebrate our own each day through sharing our oral and written stories.
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read more children's books about Black track stars. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org