Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas Are Latest & Greatest In Storied History Of African-American Gymnasts

“I never would have thought I would have so much influence on these little girls, especially African-American girls,” 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas said after I had told her the story of one such little girl. “To be able to inspire other athletes is amazing.”

Imagine the inspiration possible this Olympic year, because the top two women’s gymnasts in the world are African-Americans.

One, Simone Biles, 18, became the first black world all-around champion in 2013 and has now won an unprecedented three straight world all-around titles. The other, Douglas, 20, finished second to Biles in the world all-around last season, ending her two-year hiatus from the sport with a flourish. They both contributed to the 2015 team gold medal.

The world championships play only to gymnastics fans, a relatively limited audience. The Olympics play to the whole world, with millions of young girls and boys potential converts, especially in the United States, which will get a massive dose of prime-time gymnastics in NBC’s telecasts of Rio 2016.

Given that plus their ability and likeability, think of what that will mean if both Biles and Douglas win a passel of medals or both finish on the all-around podium, neither of which is a stretch.

“These two young African-Americans capture the spirit of Black History Month,” USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny said. “They are making history and demonstrating there really are no racial boundaries from the standpoint of participation in our sport.”