Tori Bowie’s death highlighted a devastating reality for Black women in the US
A meet in Gainesville, Florida was the last time Tianna Madison saw Tori Bowie alive. At the time, the rival sprinters were each trying to regain the form they used to win gold in the 4x100m at the 2016 Olympics. A speed demon as well as a style icon, Bowie was a runner whose go-to accessory was a colorful hair scarf. Sharing the spotlight with her was always a pleasure for Madison. There were hugs, pleasantries and no hard feelings when Madison beat Bowie in the 100m – the pair finished second and ninth, respectively
Madison always wants to catch up with people after a meet. “But it’s also a lot of work; you sweat, you’re exhausted, you’re hungry…”
During the US Olympic Trials, Madison was hoping she would run into Bowie again. In June 2021, however, when Covid restrictions finally let up and top runners converged on Eugene, Oregon, Bowie was nowhere to be found. Once a frequent race attendee, Bowie’s attendance at races declined. After that April meet in Gainesville, she only competed three more times in the following 13 months. Sheriff’s deputies in Orange county, Florida, found her dead after no one had seen or heard from her for several days this past April. She died eight months pregnant after going into premature labor, according to an autopsy. Ariana, her baby girl, is called “Ariana” in Bowie’s song
Bowie’s track and field friends and colleagues are struggling to make sense of her tragic loss without reducing her legacy to clichés.
According to Sanya Richards-Ross, the NBC Sports analyst who briefly overlapped with Bowie at the tail end of her own gilded sprint career, “her life was so much more than her death.” Her life was a triumph over tragedy.
As a result of his death, Bowie has become a symbol of the US childbirth epidemic. The CDC reported in 2021 that maternal deaths in the US increased by 40% from the previous year. Many will be tempted to blame the pandemic for the final figure – 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In spite of that, the US maternal mortality rate is still about 10 times higher than that of countries like Australia, Japan, and Germany. Women of color are at a greater risk of pregnancy-related deaths than their white counterparts in the US. This disparity is largely due to health providers ignoring Black women’s preferences and concerns during birth.
Serena Williams and Beyoncé have both revealed their harrowing labor experiences over the years. As well as Madison, her compatriot Allyson Felix has spoken openly about her own close calls during delivery. As the third member of Team USA’s golden girls relay squad after Felix and Madison to experience a traumatic childbirth in Rio, Bowie’s story probably wouldn’t have made headlines worldwide. Nonetheless, Bowie made a lasting impact by giving a human face to a devastating issue.