The groups Donald Trump has attacked since the launch of his Presidential campaign last year have been responsible for winning historic victories for the US at the Olympic Games.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Muslim-American athlete born in New Jersey, made history as the first Team USA woman to compete in an Olympic game while wearing a hijab.
Ibtihaj and her teammates — including Dagmara Wozniak, a Polish-American immigrant — took home bronze in the women’s team sabre event. But as The Guardian notes, Ibtihaj’s historic position and victory during a vitriolic Presidential election season transcends even herself.
No American medal at these Olympics might matter as much as the bronze circle that dangled around the neck of Muhammad and her team-mates. Not this summer, not when a presidential candidate says people like her don’t belong in his country and doesn’t appear to know what an American actually is. So on Saturday she grabbed the hand of her purple-haired teammate from Poland and her New York-born teammate who went to Penn State and they threw their arms in the air. Then they watched the American flag rise into the rafters.
“I’m hoping that through my experiences here at the Olympic games – winning a medal – that I combat those stereotypes about Muslims and African Americans, and even women,” she said after her Olympics were over. “We’re like any other athletes we have worked really hard for this, and I can’t think of a more deserving group of girls to go home with a medal.”
[T]he real history here was Muhammad, and not just because she became the first American to compete in a hijab. The bigger history is that she didn’t squander her opportunity to speak out against intolerance, that she didn’t politely muzzle her voice against the screams of a political campaign that has run off the rails of common sense. Instead, she used the Olympics to show that a 30-year-old woman from New Jersey can grow up with a sports dream and fulfill it, just like Katie Ledecky or Simone Biles or the women’s eight rowers who celebrated gold Saturday on the banks of an Ipanema lagoon.
“Oh, I believe so we are in a really peculiar time in our country, where people are comfortable saying things about particular groups, and they encourage fear, and they encourage violence, and I want to challenge those ideas,” she said. “I feel I have to use my platform as an athlete to speak up, and hopefully provide change in this country.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that the the US “doesn’t win anymore”, while simultaneously maligning women, immigrants, and people of color. But it’s precisely those groups who have been responsible for winning big for America in Rio.
Last week, Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win gold medal for the United States in an individual swimming event. Champions Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, also African-American women, won their third gold medals as part of the Team USA gymnastics team. Their 16-year-old teammate, New Jersey-born Laurie Hernandez, is of Puerto Rican descent and also took home gold.
On the men’s side, immigrants are integral players in rowing, equestrian riding, and basketball for Team USA:
Edward King is another foreign-born Olympian, but this isn’t the first time he’s proudly represented his adopted homeland—though he was born in South Africa, he’s been an officer in the U.S. Navy since 2011. King finished 10th this week as a member of the men’s lightweight four rowing team.
Phillip Dutton made a bit of Olympic history this week. The Australian-born equestrian rider became the oldest American, at age 52, to win an Olympic medal when he claimed the bronze in individual eventing—a sport that combines three different horseback riding skills…Dutton had previously competed in the Olympics for his birth country before immigrating to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Australia-born basketball player Kyrie Irving “decided not to play for his country of birth so he would be eligible to compete for a spot on Team USA,” according to the Washington Post.
“All told, there are 554 Americans competing at this year’s Summer Olympics—the largest contingent from any single country,” notes one piece. “With 48 immigrants among them, that means 8.5 percent of Team USA was born in another country.”
Carlos Balderas Jr., a Team USA boxer, is the first member of his family to be born in the United States. His grandfather, a Mexican immigrant, worked in the strawberry fields of California until he could save enough money to reunite with his family in America.
“The 19-year-old from Santa Maria, Calif., wants to bring back a gold medal from Rio,” notes We Are Mitú. “Not just for the U.S., but to pay back his family for all the sacrifices they’ve made.”
More from the Washington Post:
In a political context, reactions to our country’s increasing diversity, the prospect of female leadership, the presence of immigrants and contested ideas about what constitutes genuine success have congealed into a moment of extraordinary ugliness. Yet when we measure ourselves against other nations, we see the beauty and strength in inclusivity and integrity.
Speaking on the campaign trail Thursday, Hillary Clinton used Team USA’s success to blast Trump, suggesting that if American athletes feared the outside world as much as her competitor did, “Michael Phelps and Simone Biles would be cowering in the locker room.”
She could have made a simpler point. As Rio is making unmistakably clear, the parts of American life that Trump wants to change to “make America great again” are some of the very things that make America great just as it is.
Perhaps Arizona’s Senator Jeff Flake put it best:
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) August 11, 2016