Sports

Success of Suni Lee, Jay Litherland and Justine Wong-Orantes at Tokyo 2020 displays lengthy, onerous combat for Asian-American athletes

“Rising up, I at all times [said], ‘I will be an Olympian,'” Litherland tells Muricas Information Sport. “That is one factor that I actually need to share with everybody: You gotta go and you are able to do it. You’ll be able to go for it. Nothing’s stopping you.”

American swimmer Litherland has achieved that purpose twice, competing on the Olympic Video games in Rio 5 years in the past after which profitable his first Olympic medal — a silver within the 400m particular person medley — at Tokyo 2020.

Shortly after his most up-to-date success, Litherland was lauded as the primary Asian American to win an Olympic medal for the US on the Tokyo Video games.

Nonetheless, the celebrations did not cease with him. Because the Video games progressed, Group USA noticed a lot success, particularly amongst its Asian American contingent.

After Litherland, there was Lee Kiefer — whose fencing gold medal in girls’s particular person foil made nationwide historical past — and Erica Sullivan, who received silver within the first-ever girls’s 1,500m freestyle swim.

Jay Litherland of Team USA competes in heat four of the men's 400m Individual Medley on day one of the Tokyo Olympics at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 24, 2021.

Then got here Sunisa Lee, the primary Hmong American — an ethnic group from Laos that aided the US through the Vietnam Battle — to compete for Group USA, and the primary Asian of any nationality to win a gold medal within the gymnastics particular person all-around.

Lastly, Justine Wong-Orantes helped Group USA take its first ever gold in girls’s volleyball.

Greater than a dozen Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) athletes left Tokyo with medals round their necks, serving to the American crew attain the highest of the medal desk after two weeks of rigorous competitors amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

If AAPI Olympic illustration is within the highlight following Tokyo, that success has come from lower than promising circumstances.

Suni Lee, center, waves from a St. Paul fire truck with her mom Yeev Thoj, left, and sister Shyenne Lee as fans cheer for her in a parade on August 8, 2021, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

AAPI divers break floor

AAPI athletes started making headlines within the late Nineteen Forties, when diver Victoria “Vicki” Draves grew to become the primary Asian American to medal on the 1948 Summer time Olympic Video games in London. Fellow teammate Sammy Lee medaled days after Draves, making him the primary Asian American man to win a gold medal.

Nonetheless, each Draves and Lee endured racism that always hindered their skill to coach.

Draves adopted her mom’s maiden title, Taylor, when competing with a purpose to stop potential racial discrimination that got here together with utilizing her father’s Filipino surname, Manalo, in line with america Olympic and Paralympic Museum.
She additionally grew up in a low-income family the place swimming was not a precedence.

Lee, a second-generation Korean American, was permitted to coach in his group pool solely as soon as every week on Worldwide Day — the Wednesday earlier than the pool’s weekly cleansing when non-White youngsters have been allowed to swim, the museum said.

Regardless of these hardships, each athletes excelled of their performances. Draves grew to become the primary girl to win two golds in each the 3m springboard and 10m platform in the identical Olympics in 1948.

On the identical Video games, Lee received bronze within the 3m springboard and gold within the 10m platform. He went on to defend his gold medal within the 10m platform occasion on the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Vicki Draves straightens up as she plunges towards the water on her way to winning diving gold at the London Olympic Games in 1948.

‘I noticed their satisfaction and I used to be simply greatly surprised’

Forty-four years after Draves’ victories on the 1948 Summer time Video games, Kristi Yamaguchi made historical past as the primary Asian American to win a gold medal in determine skating in addition to changing into the second Asian American girl to win gold in any Olympic sport.

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“On the time, I simply did not suppose a lot of it as a result of I felt like another California woman, and it was similar to, ‘Okay, I am representing my nation and a proud American,'” Yamaguchi advised Muricas Information Sport.

“However I believe afterwards, I felt simply such an unbelievable quantity of help from the Asian American group. And I noticed their satisfaction and I used to be simply greatly surprised.”

In accordance with Yamaguchi, she was one among two Asian Individuals representing Group USA on the 1992 Albertville Winter Video games, alongside Natasha Kuchiki, who competed in pair skating.

Yamaguchi credited 1985 U.S. nationwide determine skating champion Tiffany Chin — a Chinese language American determine skater who’s a two-time world bronze medalist and the primary Asian American to win a singles nationwide title — as an inspiration.

“[Tiffany] was an enormous function mannequin of mine as a result of I believe I undoubtedly had that connection of her being Asian American and somebody that I felt I may emulate and look as much as,” Yamaguchi stated.

Lee Kiefer celebrates winning the women's foil individual gold medal bout against Inna Deriglazonva of the ROC on July 25, 2021.

Resulting from her landmark win in 1992, Yamaguchi is usually attributed as a pioneer for Asian American athletes — each on and off the ice.

“I noticed illustration in Tiffany Chin, and that impressed me. And, hopefully, the extra we see ourselves on the market, the extra folks will imagine in themselves,” Yamaguchi defined.

Following Yamaguchi’s Olympic gold medal efficiency, Asian Individuals started discovering success throughout a plethora of sports activities, together with Atlanta 1996’s “Magnificent Seven” gold-medal profitable gymnast Amy Chow, two-time Olympic determine skating medalist Michelle Kwan and gold-medal profitable snowboarding celebrity Chloe Kim.

Tokyo desires — fulfilled

The Olympic stage has steadily modified for Group USA because the days of Yamaguchi for each the Winter and Summer time Video games.

On the London Olympics in 2012, 18 AAPI athletes represented Group USA, with a number of extra as backups. The Tokyo Video games occurred almost a decade after the London Olympics, but the American crew noticed a virtually a three-fold improve in AAPI athletes since that point.
Erica Sullivan won the women's 1,500m freestyle silver at Tokyo 2020.

Tokyo 2020 noticed greater than 50 athletes figuring out as Asian American, in line with Gold Home — a premier nonprofit collective of AAPI founders, artistic voices and leaders.

Asians make up about 7% of the nation’s inhabitants, making them the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group within the US, in line with information from Pew Analysis Middle.

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But, the AAPI illustration amongst Group USA in Tokyo was roughly 8.8%, based mostly on Muricas Information calculations.

Regardless of being the one Asian American within the US girls’s Olympic volleyball crew in Tokyo, Wong-Orantes typically sees many AAPIs coaching alongside her in California.

“We practice out right here in Anaheim, California, and so I really feel like right here, simply inside our little volleyball group, I see so many Asian Individuals,” she advised Muricas Information.

Of the Asian Individuals competing for the US, many have brazenly recognized as multiracial.

“Generational adjustments occur and we’re seeing much more blended raced athletes,” Yamaguchi stated.

For multiracial athletes like Litherland, who’s of Japanese and New Zealand descent, envisioning his targets wasn’t troublesome when seeing an growing variety of profitable people with the same background to his.

“I actually idolized [five-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Nathan Adrian],” Litherland advised Muricas Information. “While you have a look at somebody that is bought type of the same face, you kinda see the resemblance, otherwise you type of relate to them.”

Though Litherland was born in Japan and holds triple citizenship in Japan, New Zealand and the US, he wholeheartedly selected to swim on behalf of the American crew, regardless of additionally being eligible to check out for the Japanese and Kiwi nationwide groups.

“I am an American, and rising up, although my roots are in New Zealand and [Japan], it felt proper,” Litherland defined to Muricas Information. “There isn’t any different nation I’d signify.”

Justine Wong-Orantes (in red) celebrates with teammates during the women's volleyball semifinal between the United States and Serbia on August 6, 2021.

Wong-Orantes, one other multiracial athlete of Mexican and Chinese language descent, additionally observed the variety amongst different Group USA hopefuls coaching on the courts.

“In the event you look inside the entire fitness center and in this system, we’ve so many athletes that come from very completely different backgrounds … It is our jobs as the present athletes proper now to encourage that and push for that,” Wong-Orantes said.

Traditionally, there was low participation amongst Asian Individuals within the Olympics and in main sports activities leagues.

A mix of stereotypes — comparable to Asians being biologically unsuitable for sports activities and cultural norms — typically performed a task on this case of beneath involvement.

Nonetheless, the present state of illustration is slowly altering as the brand new wave of Asian American athletes problem the established order.

And that is in no small half to athletes like Wong-Orantes.

Wong-Orantes is likely to be the shortest on her crew at five-foot-six, however she is broadly thought-about to be one of many world’s finest defensive gamers — no small achievement given the typical peak for ladies volleyball gamers is round 5’10”, in line with NCSA Sports activities.

“In my sport, that may be a drawback,” says Wong-Orantes matter-of-factly about her peak.

“I’d simply say it isn’t too late, and you’ll nonetheless obtain your desires. And no matter you need to aspire to be, go after it.”

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