The Olympics is a time when all nations should proud of the accomplishments of their athletes. But this year Black Americans should take a special pride in our athletes of color. From the incredible accomplishments of the American gymnastics team to now a new first in Olympic history. Olympian Simone Manuel, 20, has become the first African American to win a gold medal in an individual freestyle swimming event.
In the Rio 2016 Olympics, Manuel tied a Canadian swimmer in the Women’s 100-meter freestyle as both women touched the wall at the same time in an Olympic-record 52.70 seconds. The U.S. was not favored to win, since an American hadn’t won gold in the event since 1984.
“My first gold medal, at my first Olympics, is kind of a surprise to me. I never thought I would be in this position, but I’m so blessed and honored to be on the medal stand. All my hard work has paid off and I am really happy about it,” Manuel said in an interview.
Manuel was born in Houston and began swimming at the age of 5. She attends Stanford University and swims for the Stanford Cardinal women’s swimming team. At Stanford, Manuel is a two-time individual NCAA champion: winning the 50- and 100-yard freestyle in 2015.
“I definitely think it raises some awareness and will get them inspired. I mean the gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport. For people who believe that they can do it, I hope I’m an inspiration for others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it,” Manuel said.
Despite her stunning accomplishment, NBC did not air Manuel’s medal ceremony. Instead, the network chose to air seven hours of old footage that showed the Russian gymnastics team.