It’s the summer of Simone. While gymnast Simone Biles racks up wins in her sport, another Simone is emerging as the latest shining star in Rio.
Last night Simone Manuel staged an epic come-from-behind victory to take home gold in the 100-meter freestyle. A win that many didn’t think she could win, including herself.
“My first gold medal, at my first Olympics, is kind of a surprise to me,” Manuel was reported saying in a CNN interview. “I never thought I would be in this position but I’m so blessed and honored to be on the medal stand.”
The win made her the first African American to win gold in an individual event in swimming. She actually already had a silver medal as part of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team. And she has a chance to medal again for the 50 meter freestyle swim.
In a USA Today interview, when asked about what the victory meant to her, she said:
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality…This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
In the same interview, she also said this about being labeled “the black girl” in her sport:
“It is something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot,” Manuel said. “Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders. It’s something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer.”
Manuel competes with teammate Lia Neal, who has already helped to take home Silver this year in the 4×400-meter freestyle relay team and bronze in the 2012 Olympics for the same relay. Not to mention, there were black swimmers like Cullen Jones and Maritza Correia who have medaled in swim relays in prior Olympics.
So Manuel is certainly not the first African American swimmer to represent the U.S., and we seriously doubt she’ll be the last. We foresee a trail of black parents enrolling their little boys and girls in swim lessons as we speak (myself included).
According to a CNN article, Manuel started taking swim lessons at 4. It was the intention of her parents to enroll their daughter in lessons, so she could learn how to be “safe” in the water. But by the age of 9, she started pursuing swimming as a passion.
Thank you Simone Manuel for inspiring the next wave of black athletes to follow in your footsteps. And thank you to all the athletes doing their thing in Rio. In case you missed it, check out our list of other African American Olympians slaying in the Rio Games.
BMWK, who is your favorite athlete so far in Rio?