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Black Catholic gold medalists Simone Biles, Matt Centrowitz Jr. qualify for Tokyo Olympics

At least two Black Catholics will compete for Team USA in Tokyo, and both will defend titles from Rio.

The U.S. Olympic roster is nearing completion, and Simone Biles won’t be the only Black Catholic on it.

The largely undisputed greatest gymnast of all time dominated once again this week, vying for a spot on Team USA for the second consecutive games.

Her performance at the US Championships in Fort Worth earlier this month foreshadowed her showing at the Trials in St. Louis, where she won the all-around title on Sunday—placing first in three of the four constituent events (vault, balance beam, and floor) and finishing third in the uneven bars.

During the floor exercises on Friday, she again unleashed her now-signature move, known as “The Biles”, a double backflip with three twists. (She first performed the pass at the U.S. Championships in 2019, and repeated it at this year’s in Texas.)

This move was accompanied at the Trials by another eponymous move, a double backflip with two twists while dismounting from the balance beam.

Altogether, Biles’ performance easily earned her a spot in Tokyo, making her the only returnee from the “Final Five” (the U.S. womens’ gymnastics team from the 2016 Games in Rio). She will look to defend her four Olympic gold medals come July 25.

On Sunday night, another Black Catholic tested his mettle, this time in the track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Matthew Centrowitz Jr., who is of Afro-Guyanese heritage, fought to the finish against Cole Hocker in the men’s 1500m final—having bested him in the semifinals on Friday.

A short clip from the first race emerged on social media after the finish, in which Centrowitz playfully gestured toward Hocker as they approached the finish line.

They again went 1-2 in the final, this time with Hocker coming out on top. Both will head to Tokyo and compete on August 7th, when Centrowitz will defend a gold medal in the event from Rio.

It turns out their weekend battle was something of a Catholic affair, as Centrowitz was identified as a practitioner by both the USCCB’s Catholic News Service and the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2012, and Hocker as an unspecified Christian in two 2018 interviews during his title-winning Catholic school days in Indianapolis.

As of today, NBC has counted 543 athletes who’ve made Team USA so far, with the final number set to approach 600 by July 23rd’s Opening Ceremony.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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