She wasn’t expected to win. But after flying through the final 25 meters of the 100-meter freestyle, American swimmer Simone Manuel touched the wall to set a new Olympic record. Her victory will ripple far beyond lane three of the aquatics center in Rio.
With her historic swim, Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the Olympics. The 20-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, shared the top spot on the podium in a tie with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak.
“This medal is not just for me,” Manuel said, breathless after getting out of the pool in an interview with the NBC television network. “It’s for a whole bunch of people who have come before me, and who have been inspirations to me — Maritza [Correia], Cullen [Jones] — and it’s for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it,” she said.
She was referring to Maritza Correia, who won silver in a women’s relay at the 2004 Olympics, and Cullen Jones, who won four Olympic swimming medals in the 2008 and 2012 games.
Manuel’s win in the 100-meter freestyle is the first U.S. medal in the event in 36 years. Manuel also won a silver medal with the U.S. women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
In the fall, she will return as a third-year student to Stanford University in California.
“I would like there to be a day where there are more of us, and it’s not ‘Simone, the black swimmer,'” she said. “Because 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.”
“And that’s not true because I work just as hard as anybody else. I want to win just like everybody else.”