A Brief Guide to This Summer’s Unexpected U.S. Olympians of Color

A list of eight athletes of color who will be competing for the U.S. in Olympic sports categories that historically have not been very diverse.

By Jorge Rivas Jul 06, 2012

For the first time in history the U.S. Olympic Swim Team will have more than one black athlete: swimmers Cullen Jones, Anthony Ervin and Lia Neal will make history in just under three weeks in London. Gabrielle Douglas, who is quickly turning in to this year’s Olympic favorite, is the first black woman in more than a decade to join the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team. 

Douglas is 16, Neal is only 17, and both are already making history with the games set to begin in about another two weeks.

Neal’s father Rome says his daughter is "representing a nationality of people who have not been noted for titles in swimming" and says he "thinks she’s going to hold up to it and represent in a major way."

"I’m very flattered," Neal told the New York Times about being the second black woman to make the US Olympic swim team. "Swimming is becoming more and more diverse in the sport. The Make a Splash Foundation, they’re trying to get minorities in the water and be water safe, and I think that’s really great. With me being in New York, I guess it’s a predominantly white sport, but you still see a lot of Chinese people and Hispanics, especially my team. We’re so diverse."

"I’m also half-Chinese so I feel like I’m representing two different races," Neal told the New York Post.

Below is a list of eight athletes of color who will be competing for the United States in Olympic sports categories that historically have not been the most diverse. There are still many Olympic trials that are scheduled, so consider this the beginning of a list. 


John Orozco poses for a portrait at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

John Orozco

Specialty: Gymnastics, Pommel horse
Age: 19
Hometown: Born in the Bronx, New York to Puerto Rican parents.
Twitter: @JohnW_Orozco

Fun Fact I: Orozco began gymnastics at the age of eight when his father found a flyer for free gymnastics lessons at a gym in Manhattan.

Fun Fact II: Orozco may end up on "Dancing with the Stars" one day. So far he’s been an extra in three episodes of "Law & Order" and hewas featured in a Gym Class Heroes music video for "The Fighter."

Fun Fact III: His profile picture on Twitter is a snapshot of him and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Gabby Douglas poses for a portrait during the 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Gabrielle Douglas

Specialty: Gymnastics
Age: 16
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Twitter: @gabrielledoug

Fun Fact: Douglas left her family in Virginia two-years ago and moved in with a foster family in Iowa just so she just continue to train.

History: Douglas is the first African American since Dominique Dawes in 2000 to join the women’s U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team.

Danell Leyva and his dad/coach react after Leyva competed on the high bar during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team Trials. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Danell Leyva

Specialty: Gymnastics, High bar and parallel bars
Age: 20
Hometown: Miami, Florida (Leyva left Cuba when he was a year old.)
Twitter: @danelljleyva 

Fun Fact: Leyva is also famous for having a dad who gets loud and over the top when he’s competing. Not so fun fact: Leyva’s coach is his father so he always has an exuberant supporter.

Chaunte Lowe celebrates on the way to victory in the Women’s High Jump on Day 9 of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Chaunté Lowe

: Track and field, High jump, long jump
Age: 28
Hometown: Templeton, Calif., but currently lives in Decatur, Georgia.

Fun Fact: She took a year off from competition in 2007 and gave birth to her daughter, Jasmine. After her second daughter was born in April 2011 Lowe started trainning two-days later.

Tamari Miyashiro (L) enters the field ahead of the Women’s Volleyball Pool B Preliminary Round match in Guadalajara, Mexico. (2011 Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Tamari Miyashiro

: Volleyball
Age: Unknown
Hometown: Kaneohe, Hawai’i

Fun Fact: Miyashiro comes from a family of athletes–mother and sister played volleyball at the University of Hawai’i, brother Ainoa played volleyball at Graceland University and her father played football at Northern Michigan.

Cullen Jones waves to the fans prior to swimming in the first semifinal heat of the Men’s 50 m Freestyle during Day Six of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Cullen Jones

Specialty: Swimming, Freestyle
Age: 28
Hometown: Born in the Bronx, moved to New Jersey at a young age
Twitter: @Cullen_Jones 

Not so Fun Fact: He learned to swim after he was rescued from a near-drowning experience at a splash-down pool at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in Pennsylvania when he was five years old.

History: Jones is the second African-American to hold or share a world record (4×100 m freestyle relay) in swimming, after Anthony Ervin. He is also the third African-American to make the US Olympic swimming team after Anthony Ervin and Maritza Correia.

Anthony Ervin stands on the podium after winning the men’s 50 meter freestyle final during day 3 of the Santa Clara International Grand Prix at George F. Haines International Swim Center on June 2, 2012 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Anthony Ervin

Specialty: Swimming, Freestyle
Age: 31
Hometown: Valencia, CA
Twitter: @AnthonyErvin

Fun Fact: Ervin stopped swimming competitively at the age of 22, auctioned off his 2000 Olympic gold medal on eBay to aid survivors of the 2004 tsunami, but he began to train again in 2011.

History: Ervin is of Jewish descent on his mother’s side, and of African-American and Native American descent on his father’s side.

Lia Neal celebrates during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100 m Freestyle during Day Six of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team Trials at CenturyLink Center on June 30, 2012 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Lia Neal

Specialty: Swimming
Age: 17
Hometown: Brooklyn Twitter: @LiaNeal (and a pretty good Tumblr)

History in the making: Neal’s father is black and her mother is Chinese. She is considered the second black woman to make the US Olympic swim team.

Fun Fact: When Neal made the team Alicia Keys congratulated her on Twitter by saying "I always wanted to be an Olympic swimmer!! Congratulations to @lianeal Amazzzing!!!! ;-)." Neal responded with "@aliciakeys #saywhaaaaat thank you! I love you!!!"