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Biles' trials: Simone leads Black Catholics headed to 2024 Paris Olympics

The U.S. Olympic qualifiers for gymnastics and track and field took place this month in Minneapolis and Eugene, Oregon, respectively.

Simone Biles on Day 4 of the 2024 U.S. Olympic team gymnastics trials on June 30, 2024, at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Simone Biles will once again lead a star-studded cast of Black Catholics on their way to the 2024 Paris Olympics, following two weeks of U.S. Olympic trials competition across a number of athletic disciplines. 

The time-defying 27-year-old Texan has become the first woman since fellow Black Catholic Dominique Dawes to qualify for her third Olympics in gymnastics. Biles bested the nation’s top tumblers this month in Minneapolis, with her final score of 117.225 reflecting her characteristically dominant routines on floor and vault. She also landed her signature “Biles II” Yurchenko Double Pike vault on Friday night—boosting her already significant lead and eliciting a standing ovation.

Biles is now the oldest American Olympic qualifier in women’s gymnastics since the 1950s, bringing her back near the pinnacle of the sport after nearly a year of steady performances. Her return from a two-year hiatus has now brought a national championship, a world title, and a trip to France that could result in her extending her all-time lead in medals for a gymnast of any gender.

Biles credited a commitment to her mental health for the triumphant resurgence, a theme she has touted in several previous competitions since her comeback.

“Yeah, being in a good mental spot, seeing my therapist every Thursday. It's kind of religious for me,” she said Sunday night after securing gold in the all-around at trials. “That's why I'm here today.”

The scene in Minnesota was hardly all smiles, though, as a number of the top American female gymnasts withdrew from the Trials due to injury in the weeks prior to the meet, including one-time dynamo Gabby Douglas, who was attempting a comeback after eight years away from competition. 

Her fellow Black Olympic hopefuls Shilese Jones, Konnor McClain, and Skye Blakely were also among those lost to injury by the weekend, severely narrowing the field of possible qualifiers.

It made for a notably dramatic moment on Sunday night after all routines were concluded, with defending Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee joining Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey, and 16-year-old newcomer Hezly Rivera as qualifiers chosen by the selection committee alongside Biles’ automatic bid. 

A complementary scene on Saturday night saw the University of Michigan's Fred Richard, the defending world champion in the men's all-around, become the first Black man ever to be the top qualifier at the trials.

As such, 2024 is the first year with African Americans leading the U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams for men and women.

Across the country in Eugene, Oregon, all eyes were on Hayward Field for the 2024 U.S. Olympic track and field trials, where narratives and legacies were on the line for a number of sprinters eyeing national bragging rights and Parisian gold.

Though Noah Lyles swept the 100- and 200-meter finals, he was followed up in both events by a Black Catholic in Kenny Bednarek, the defending Olympic silver medalist in the latter event.

“I'm on his case right there,” Bednarek said of Lyles following the 200-meter final, displaying his characteristic confidence. “I showed the world I've got a lot more in me and I've got more in the tank.”

The defending gold and bronze medalist in the 200 and 100, respectively, Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse—also a Black Catholic—qualified for the Olympics in the 100 on Friday night in Montréal. Days before, he exempted himself from the 200 trials, with an expected auto-bid to be announced by the Canadian Athletes' Commission at a later date.

Matthew Centrowitz Jr., a Black Catholic from Maryland, aimed to return to Olympic glory after winning the 1500-meter run at the 2016 Rio Olympics but failing to make the finals in Tokyo. He withdrew from the 2024 trials with a hamstring injury shortly before competition began.

Christian Coleman, the Catholic-educated Georgia native who was expected to make big moves in the sprints, came away disappointed in both of his signature events, finishing fourth in both the 100 and 200, ending his Olympic dreams for this cycle. 

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, a graduate of Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, played the opposite end of the spectrum, powering her way to yet another world record in the 400-meter hurdles at 50.65 seconds, lowering a previous mark she set in 2022.

She will aim to defend her Olympic title this summer in Paris, where she will face the indoor 400-meter dash world record-holder Femke Bol of the Netherlands.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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