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Olympic athletes like Simone Biles are already grabbing headlines for their considerable achievements — as athletes, as mothers, as activists, and as strong women. (Credit: Byarturo, Wikimedia Commons)

The 2021 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, won’t kick off until July 23. But these athletes are already grabbing headlines for their considerable achievements — as athletes, as mothers, as activists, and as strong women. Below, here are five such moments that made an impact on us.

1. Allyson Felix Starts Up Before Heading to Tokyo

Starting a new business isn’t usually part of one’s preparations for going to the Olympics — then again, as a six-time Olympic medalist, Felix isn’t like most people. The 35-year-old track and field star recently launched Saysh, a sneaker company. In her formal announcement, she donned her medals, proudly showed off her cesarean section scar, and stated that the company was founded “to undermine inequality with female athleticism and creativity.” If that sounds pointed, it should — Felix had previously worked with athletic giant Nike, but revealed in a 2019 New York Times article that the company tried to reduce her pay by 70 percent because of her pregnancy. Looks like she’s once again the winner at the end of the race.

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2. Sha’Carri Richardson Secures Spot in Olympics Amid Grief

When Richardson recently flew across the finish line of the women’s 100m finals, much of the commentary was celebratory — of both her stunning athleticism, and her bright orange hair. (Changing her hair colors is sort of her “thing.”) It wasn’t until afterwards that the world learned of the very recent loss of her mother. Richardson says she was mostly raised by her grandmother, noting that her feelings regarding her mom are “very sensitive and confusing.” But, she adds, “I am grateful for her giving me life… I will always love and respect her for that, and I definitely pay her respect every time I step on the track. I love her and I know she loves me.” It takes a lot to rise above pain to achieve success — even if Richardson makes it look easy.

3. Lindsay Flach Competes While 18 Weeks Pregnant

Flach is a heptathlete, meaning that she competes in an event comprised of seven parts, including hurdle jumping, javelin throwing, and several hundred-meter dashes. (Honestly, just typing out all of its components is strenuous.) Now imagine doing all of that while 18 weeks pregnant — which is exactly what Flach did this year. She ultimately finished 15th overall, but did take part in all seven events — and in record-breaking heat, no less. “Every story has an end but in life every end is a new beginning,” she wrote in her Instagram post about the race.

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4. Simone Biles Reminds Us She’s the GOAT

When your name is synonymous with greatness, why not flaunt that? Biles has mostly garnered attention for her stunning performances during this year’s trials. But she’s also gotten some press for her deservedly self-congratulating clothing featuring ‘Goldie,” a goat made of sequins that has appeared on numerous parts of her uniform. Biles aims to do more than just celebrate her own achievements with this move — she wants others to do the same. “Everybody can say you’re good, but once you acknowledge it, it’s not cool anymore,” she says. “And I want kids to learn that, yes, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re good — or even great — at something.”

5. Gwen Berry Takes a Serious Stand

Oftentimes, fighting for what you believe in isn’t easy. But when the time came, Berry didn’t back down. While accepting her bronze medal in hammer-throwing — earning her spot in the 2021 games in the process — the American national anthem began to play, despite not playing during the day at any other point in the trials. “I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry says of the timing of the anthem. So she turned away from the flag and toward the audience in a very intentional gesture. “My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports,” Berry added of the move. “I’m here to represent those … who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.”

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Editor’s Note: The Story Exchange is celebrating its 10th anniversary by launching the annual Women In Science Incentive Prize. Apply now for a chance to receive $5,000 in funding for your climate-related research or startup. Deadline: July 31. 

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