American swimmer Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer in history to take gold in an individual event on Thursday night in the 100-meter freestyle, a victory she said held special meaning because of the ongoing issue of police brutality towards black Americans. After a blistering final half of the second lap, Manual finished with a time of 52:70, good enough for a tie with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak. The two shared a new Olympic record and the podium for the gold medal. “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” said Manuel of her big win. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Manuel and teammate Lia Neal became the first two black athletes to compete on the American women’s swim team at the same time with their selection for Rio, a distinction Manuel described as both a focal point and a distraction going into Thursday’s final.
“It’s something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot,” Manuel said. “I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders. It’s something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer.’ The title of black swimmer suggests that I am not supposed to win golds or break records, but that’s not true because I train hard and want to win just like everyone else.”
But for Manuel, the victory was about more than just her own individual accomplishment. “This medal is not for me,” said the swimmer. “It is for some of the African-Americans who have come before me. 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.”
Manuel, who also helped the U.S. to silver in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, will compete once more this Olympics in the 50-meter freestyle.
Read the full story at USA Today.