When Simone Manuel reached for the wall in the women’s 100-meter freestyle at Rio 2016, it was a historic moment: She became the first Black female swimmer to win individual Olympic gold, tying Canadian Penny Oleksiak for first place.
“I’m super glad with the fact that I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport,” Manuel said. “But at the same time, I would like there to be a day where there are more of us, and it’s not ‘Simone, the Black swimmer.’ The title ‘Black swimmer’ makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, or I’m not supposed to be able to break records. That’s not true because I work just as hard as anybody else, and I love the sport. I want to win just like everybody else.”
Manuel came home with four medals in all, also winning the gold in the 4×100 medley relay and silver in the 50 freestyle and 4×100 freestyle relay.
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It was a remarkable performance for an athlete whose introduction to the sport came because Sharron and Marc Manuel felt it was important that all of their children were able to swim. Older brothers Ryan and Chris played college basketball.
While always tall for her age, Simone, though, was not interested in pursuing basketball. By age 12, she was focused squarely on an swimming and it soon became apparent that she had the ability to be special.
Manuel racked up the accolades at Stanford University before forgoing her final year to turn professional. She also continues to advocate for inclusion in the sport.