While Michael Phelps continues to stake his claim as the most dominant athlete in any sport by becoming the first swimmer to win four straight gold medals in an event, Olympic history was also being made on the women’s side on an unforgettable Thursday in Rio de Janeiro.
Simone Manuel tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada to win the gold medal in the women’s 100m Freestyle. Her victory broke a long-overdue barrier as she became the first African-American woman to medal in an individual Olympic swimming event.
(Photo Credit: nbcmiami.com)
This Olympics will forever be known as the one in which women shattered racial barriers and integrated sports that were traditionally ruled by white athletes. Men's swimming had Cullen Jones, who won two golds and two silvers at the last two Olympics. But Jones didn't make the cut this season. The eyes of diversity were focused on Manuel’s auspicious performance, which secured Team USA’s first gold medal in that event since 1984.
A visibly overwhelmed Manuel was fighting back tears in her interview on NBC. She realizes the magnitude of the moment and how she has gone from a record-setting freshman phenom at Stanford to an Olympic icon and an unforgettable pioneer in her craft.
Gold-medal dripping gymnast Simone Biles isn’t the only African-American woman throwing brown sugar in the game. Manuel’s impact on swimming can’t be overstated. Black women have arrived in a sport that outdated notions once insisted blacks couldn’t excel in.
It’s amazing that in 2016, African-Americans still have racial obstacles to leap over and conquer. Years of oppression have put us behind the eight ball in a litany of sports that are never mentioned when celebrating the dominant black athletes of our times.
Back in March of 2015, Manuel helped lay the foundation and plant the seed for this moment. She was one of three African-American swimmers who historically swept the podium in the 100 yard freestyle at the Women's Division 1 NCAA Championship. It was clear that the swimming blackout was upon us.
She follows in the footsteps of her Brooklyn -born teammate Lia Neal who became the first African-American woman to medal in the 2012 Olympics when she won a bronze medal, swimming the third leg of the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
Neal also participated in these Olympics, winning a silver along with Manuel in the 4x100-meter relay. But Manuel's golden stroke has stolen the spotlight and she's become one of the most polarizing figures in these games as she pushes the pendulum of diversity in swimming in an all-inclusive, non-segregated direction. That’s what America is all about.
Similar to March of 2015, when Manuel and Neal shared a landmark moment in NCAA swimming, after Manuel’s historic performance, Neal was right there crying, hugging and basking in the magnitude of the moment as Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games and Manuel’s dope performance marks a new age in professional swimming.
Back in April of 2015 TSL kicked it with Neal in an exclusive interview as she spoke about her emergence at the 2012 Olympics, her impact on swimming culture, her game-changing NCAA Championship and her desire for a gold medal at these Rio Olympics.