Meet the Indigenous Olympians at Tokyo 2020

Designed by INW. Photos: Tokyo 2020

Tokyo Olympics is finally happening. The Summer Games were postponed last year due to Covid-19. The multi sport event started five days ago in Tokyo, the Japanese capital.

According to Tokyo 2020 official page 11,693 athletes from around the globe are competing for the glory of representing their country. There is not official data of how many identified as Indigenous, Aboriginal or First Nations athletes. 

Indigenous News of the World (INW) identified 54 indigenous athletes from six countries competing at Tokyo 2020.

A small number. There are 370 million Indigenous people around the world and spread across more than 90 countries.

The Mohawk athlete Jillian Weir, member of the Canadian delegation at this current sport event believes in the positive impact of Indigenous athletes in track and field competing at the Olympics.

“With more indigenous athletes competing in a variety of sports at a high level our First Nations community will have more public representation which can inspire the indigenous youth to get involved.” Said to INW .

Photo: New Zealand Olympic Team

The New Zealand team included more indigenous people than any other team in the history of the games. 33 of the 211 New Zealand athletes are of Māori descent.

Gayle Broughton rugby player is one of them. 

She was a member of the silver medal winning sevens team at the Rio Olympics.

Off the field, Broughton is a qualified personal trainer and par time DJ. 

“An exciting player with masterful footwork and the ability to set a match alight.” Said the New Zealand Olympic Team on its website.

Sixteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes are part of the Australian delegation competing in Tokyo. They are members of the rugby, basketball, tennis, hockey, and weightlifting teams. 

Among them is Ash Barty, former cricket player, who is the first Indigenous athlete to compete in Olympic-level tennis. She is ranked Number one in the world. 

Her father Robert is a descendant of the indigenous Ngarigo people. She was named Tennis Australia National Indigenous Ambassador in 2018. 

“I’m very proud of my indigenous heritage and to be named as a National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador. Giving back to my community is very important to me and I hope to inspire many more indigenous kids to get active and enjoy their tennis.” She twitted in 2018. 

Photo of Jill Weir. Instagram

Jillian Weir is the only Indigenous athlete of the Canadian team. The hammer-throwing is a proud descendant of her Mohawk lineage.

Weir was officially selected as part of the Canadian Olympic team in early July. 

She hopes to make proud to the new generations of Indigenous Canadians. 

“I hope to achieve a lifetime best performance and qualify for the final. I know I will give my best effort and no matter what I can be proud of myself for doing that.” Told to INW.

While 613 Americans athletes are among the USA team, the second largest at the Olympics. Only two identified as Native Hawaiians. 

Heimana Reynolds, Native Hawaiian and Tahitian, is competing in park skateboarding, and volleyball player, Micah Christenson, also Native Hawaiian

Photo of Heimana Reynolds. Instagram
Photo of Micah Christenson. Instagram
Photo: Comite Olimpico Peruano

This year, one of 34 delegates of the Peruvian team is of Quechua descendant.

Gladys Tejeda, gold medallist at Pan-American Games, Lima 2019, started running at the age of 11.

“I was always running, to go buy milk or to do anything. It did not matter if it was still dark, before dawn, I was always running, wanting to do everything fast. That’s why I was called the ‘gazelle’ when I was a child.” Said to La República newspaper in 2015.

This is her third Olympic season and her ambition is “To finish in the top 10” at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Photo: Comité Olímpico Nicaragüense

Nancy Ludrick Rivas, the weightlifting and proud Miskito woman is one of 8 delegates representing Nicaragua at the current olympic tournament.

She played football before a coach encouraged her to try weightlifting because of her physique. Her father did not want her to pursue the sport and she had to keep her training a secret from him. She maintained motivation by watching videos of other female weightlifters.

In 2020 she was named Most Outstanding Athlete of the Year by the Nicaraguan Olympic Committee.

They made History

James Francis Thorpe became the first Native American to win a gold medal for USA and the first athlete in history to be disqualified for professionalism. 

He won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon. “He lost his Olympic titles after an investigation by the Amateur Athletic Union showed that he had played semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics.” Said the Olympic Studies Centre.

 In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals.  

“Despite the rehabilitation of Thorpe, he remains in the eyes of Native Americans a powerful symbol of the humiliation of Native American peoples.” Acknowledges the Olympic Studies Centre. 

Cathy Freeman. Source: Australian Olympic Committee

In 2000, Sydney held the Olympics and the world witness a young Kuku Yalanji woman, who won gold at 400-metre athletics.

Cathy Freeman became the first Aboriginal Australian to win an individual Olympic Gold Medal. Cathy also lit the Olympic flame during these Games.

A proud Kuku Yalanji woman, Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman grew up in central and outback Queensland. 

“I remember running my first race, I was petrified. It was actually my teacher, Ms. Baldry, who forced me to the start line.” Told the runner to the Australian Olympic Committee.  

Read this story in Spanish.


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