Wyomia Tyus
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Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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Wyomia Tyus slipped on a pair of black shorts for the Olympic 100m final in Mexico City in 1968, her own quiet way of protesting racial injustice.

When she finished in world-record time (11 seconds flat), Tyus became the first athlete – male or female – to win back-to-back 100m gold medals.

The Mexico City Games are most remembered for the black-gloved fists raised by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were kicked out of those Olympics for their podium gesture. Tyus’ symbolic act (and later dedication of her 4x100m gold medal to Smith and Carlos) also resonates 52 years later as athletes make their voices heard.

In late June, a group of U.S. athletes penned a letter to the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee calling for the abolition of Olympic Charter Rule 50, which prohibits protests during the Games at Olympic venues and the Athletes’ Village. Carlos co-signed the letter.

The IOC Athletes’ Commission has been consulting with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind. Proposal(s) to the IOC Executive Board are slated for late 2020 and early 2021.

Earlier this month, U.S. sprinter Noah Lyles raised a black-gloved fist before a 200m at a Diamond League meet in Monaco, again bringing to mind Olympians from 1968. On Wednesday, athletes across basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis chose not to compete, calling attention to racial injustice three days after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

As athletes continue to push for their right to protest, Tyus, who turns 75 this week, said in a telephone interview, “[It’s about] coming to the table and getting a better understanding of where athletes are today. … It used to be, you know, and it still is … athletes should be athletes, not doing anything else. We’re also human. We also have feelings. We also have rights. We also should be able to express those rights.”

Born in 1945, Tyus grew up on a dairy farm in Griffin, Georgia, during the Jim Crow era.

She was recruited to join the Tigerbelles track team at Tennessee State by coach Ed Temple, whom she still refers to as “Mr. Temple.” Temple led an enormously successful program, sending 40 Tigerbelles to the Olympics and offering the women he coached the chance to get a college education.

He guided Wilma Rudolph at the 1960 Rome Olympics, where she became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Games in track and field. In all, Temple’s Tigerbelles earned 23 Olympic medals.

Being a Tigerbelle, Tyus said, allowed her to obtain two educations: one in college and one traveling the world as an athlete.

“He would always say to us that track will open the door; education would keep the door open,” Tyus, who turns 75 on Saturday, said in a recent telephone interview. “He made us believe in ourselves and believe that we could make a difference.”

He also warned that Olympic success would not change systemic racism at home. Nor fix the lack of opportunities available to women at the time.

“He used to tell us a lot of times, ‘It doesn’t matter how many gold medals [you win] or how many times you go to the Olympics. When you come back home, you’re still going to be Black, and you’re still going to be a woman,'” Tyus said.

Tyus made her first Olympic team in 1964 at age 19. Temple was careful not to set expectations, telling Tyus her time would come in 1968. Her teammate and best friend, Edith McGuire, was the early pick for 100m gold. Instead, it was Tyus who crossed the line first, edging McGuire by two tenths of a second.

“[Edith] ran and grabbed me and said, ‘Tyus, you won,’” Tyus said. “‘I did?’ That was never in my brain that I would win the gold medal in ’64.”

Four years later, Tyus hadn’t had her strongest season in the pre-Olympic year and felt written off because of her age (though she was only 23). But she knew she was prepared and entered the Games believing that repeat gold was within reach. Temple reminded her that no athlete won the 100m at consecutive Olympics.

“He says, ‘Now, you probably won’t get no press for it, ’cause you’re a woman,’” Tyus recalled.

The 1968 Games took place amid growing unrest of continued racial injustice both in the United States and abroad.

Tyus spoke with other athletes in the village about protesting in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which was created to draw attention to inequality and injustice worldwide. She said the athletes did not agree on a single form of protest, “so it was left up to each person to do it.”

Tyus wore black shorts instead of her uniform pair throughout the Games, including in the 100m and 4x100m finals. She did not share her plans with anyone else.

“[It was] my way of protesting,” she said. “There was no need to talk about it.”

Simply showing up and running her best mattered, too.

“Knowing what it feels like to be discriminated against, growing up in the South, growing up during the Jim Crow era, being a Black woman, being told that muscles are ugly … to me, that was part of my protest,” she said. “This is to show people all the things [they] say are not true.”

Tyus doesn’t remember much coverage of her repeat gold and world record at the time. She does recall hearing an announcer say that Carl Lewis was the first to go back-to-back in the 100m when he did so in 1984 and 1988.

But recognition was not the reason Tyus ran.

“I didn’t do this for anybody else,” she said. “I did this for me. Whether I get the credit or not. But I do know one thing: if they ever have to look in the record books, my name would be there first.”

Tyus remained active in sports after retiring from sprinting.

She worked as a commentator for ABC at the 1976 Montreal Games, helped carry the Olympic flag at the Opening Ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and took the Olympic torch through Griffin, Georgia, before the 1996 Atlanta Games. She is a founding member of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which empowers girls and women through sports.

Away from the track, Tyus worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District and as a naturalist in outdoor education.

She co-wrote “Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story,” published in 2018. These days, Tyus is staying in and staying safe and talking to her five grandchildren on Zoom. She also speaks to McGuire, still her best friend, almost every day.

The deaths of Black Americans, including George Floyd, and the protests and racial reckoning that followed, brought her back to the ’60s, she said, emphasizing the need for as many voices as possible to condemn systemic injustice.

“The more people you get to speak up and stand up for it and say this is not right,’” she said. “I can never say enough. You’re definitely stronger in numbers.”

MORE: Smith, Carlos weigh in on potential athlete demonstrations at Tokyo Olympics

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Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

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Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
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Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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