‘This can be me’: Black participation rising in gymnastics

Japan 2020

FILE – In this Aug. 9, 2016, file photo, U.S. gymnasts and gold medallists, Simone Biles, left and Gabrielle Douglas celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony for the artistic gymnastics women’s team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The success of Olympic gymnastics champions Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles has created a spike in interest in the sport in Black communities. Representation among Black girls at the upper reaches of women’s gymnastics is rising. Half of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo are women of color. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

TOKYO (AP) — There’s a phenomenon that happens every time Simone Biles appears on a screen inside Power Moves Gymnastics & Fitness.

As if flipping a switch, the young women of color on the gym’s competitive team spring to life, fueled by the jolt of adrenaline that comes with watching the reigning Olympic champion test the limits of their sport.

“They just get this motivation that’s just unreal,” said DeLissa Walker, who co-owns the gym just outside New York City with her sister Candice. “And we’re like, ‘Wow, they’re really inspired.’ … They’re like ‘This can be me.’”

Maybe because more and more, it is.

The face of gymnastics in the United States is changing. There are more athletes of color starting — and sticking — in a sport long dominated by white athletes at the highest levels.

Half of the U.S. women’s Olympic delegation that will walk onto the floor — Biles, Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee — at Ariake Gymnastics Center for Olympic qualifying on Sunday are minorities. Biles and Chiles are African American; Lee is Hmong American.

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