Simone Manuel took the world by surprise on Thursday night, as she became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold in an individual swimming event. Simone Ashley Manuel (born August 2, 1996) is an American competition swimmer specializing in sprint freestyle
“The gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport,” she said. “For people who believe that they can’t do it. I hope I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.”
She also said she was aware of what her victory meant in the current political climate in the US especially the racism in swimming as we can see in this article . “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
According to statistics from the USA Swimming Foundation, nearly 70% of Black children are unable to swim, and many Black adults hold a petrifying fear of even entering the water. The long history of African Americans fear of water does not go unwarranted as the trauma from our ancestors is still deeply rooted in us today. Enslaved Africans traveling thousands of miles across the ocean, being deprived of food and water, while watching the bodies of their shipmates being cast away is still embedded in our DNA.
The first thought that crossed my head was the powerful scene in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” the HBO film about the actress’ life. In the scene Dandridge (played by Halle Berry), walks past a hotel swimming pool after being told she couldn’t get in. Instead of being defeated, she defiantly dips her toe in the water and kicks it around. In the very next scene, however, the pool is being drained and cleaned by Black workers as Dandridge watches from her hotel room. Apparently, even dipping a toe in the water was too much for the hotel’s White patrons who complained. With the film and Manuel’s historic win still playing in my mind, I took to Twitter.Never forget.
They drained an entire swimming pool because Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it.
That is why Simone Manuel is important.
Simone Manuel was part of an extraordinary 100m freestyle final, in which she tied for first place with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, who only turned 16 in June.
Both athletes had enjoyed success earlier in the Games. Manuel won silver with the US relay team, and Oleksiak claimed silver in the 200m butterfly and two bronzes in the freestyle relays.
Simone Manuel, left, and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak shared gold in the 100m freestyle
Simone Manuel said she had not expected to win gold. “Coming into my first Olympics I didn’t think I was going to be getting a gold medal individually. My goal was just to get more experience, swim as fast as I can,” she said. “And after prelims and semi-finals and seeing where I was sitting, when I came in tonight I was like, ‘I want to get on that medal stand’. Just surpassing that goal and getting an American record on top of a gold medal is super exciting for me.”
The 20-year-old was also asked how it felt to share a gold medal. “I wouldn’t say it’s weird. I mean, the 100 free was pretty close,” said Manuel. “Just in terms of sharing that with Penny, she’s an awesome girl. I just met her at this meet, and two youngins sprinting, I think it’s good for the sport and breaks the stereotypes of sprinting.”
Manuel and Oleksiak’s golds were made all the more remarkable by the fact that they beat the world record holder, Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell finished in fourth place after leading at the halfway point; her sister Bronte came home in sixth.
Simone Manuel’s gold came on the same day that another Simone – Biles – won gold for the US in the women’s all-around gymnastics. Manuel said she and Biles were close. “We’re basically the same person,” she said, “and we’re both going back to Houston with gold medals”
Earlier in the evening Ryan Murphy had won another gold for the US in the pool, as he came home first in the 200m backstroke. Michael Phelps added the 22nd gold of his career with victory in the 200m individual medley. His old rival Ryan Lochte could only finish in fifth place.