Call her “Swimone,” if you’d like. At 20 years old, Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win Olympic gold in an individual swimming event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, setting an Olympic record. She also won a gold medal in the 4-x-100 meter medley and silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4-x-100 meter freestyle relay.
Her victory was felt worldwide, but especially resonated within black American communities where the United States’ history with swimming and segregation has tread very murky waters. In the Jim Crow South, swimming pools were often called America’s most racist institution. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, 7 out of 10 black kids cannot swim. This win, the Olympic champion said, could open doors for other African Americans to fall in love with the sport.
CATEGORY: Arts & Culture
HOMETOWN: Sugar Land, Texas
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“This medal is not just for me. It is for some of the African Americans who have come before me,” she said, tipping her swimmer’s cap to Olympic medal winners Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones. “This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find love and drive to get to this point.”
Although she says she hopes to one day not be known as “Simone the black swimmer,” she also used the moments after her win to address issues of race and police brutality.
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” she said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Simone hails from Sugar Land, Texas, and is a junior at Stanford University, where she has set several records and competed in many national championships. In her freshman year, Simone broke the American and NCAA records for the 100-yard freestyle event. In 2015, she became a two-time winner at the NCAA championships, coming in first in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle. She’s helped set three world records in medley relays in Glasgow, Scotland; Indianapolis; and Kazan, Russia. In January, she beat her teammate Katie Ledecky’s pool record in the 200-meter freestyle against UCLA.