Simone Manuel Becomes First African American Woman Olympic Gold Medalist in Swimming

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By: DiversityWorking Press
Date Posted: August 12, 2016

It was both a triumphant and historic win for Simone Manuel, when she became the first African American woman gold medalist in swimming, after winning in the women's 100m freestyle, with an Olympic record of 52.70s, in the world's most prestigious sports competitions on Thursday night.

Simone Manuel, who hails from Houston, Texas, tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada in beating world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. "It's been a long journey and I'm super excited with where it has brought me," she said. click here

Also in the Rio Olympics, she won a silver medal in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay, clocking in at 3:31:89.

A long journey indeed, for Simone Manuel, whose astounding feat brought honor and pride for the United States as well, which last won gold in the same event in 1984, and where the sport still lacks African Americans.

Thankful for the path blazed open for her by Cullen Jones, her teammate Lea Neal, and Maritza Correia, and hoping her win can inspire and welcome in more African Americans to the sport of swimming, she dedicated her gold win:
"This medal is not just for me," she said. "It's for some of the African-Americans that have came before me and have been inspirations and mentors to me. I hope that I can be an inspiration for others."

Maritza Correia was the first African-American woman to be a member of the U.S. swim team. Cullen Jones was the first African-American to break a world record in the pool. […] Her (Manuel's) only other international medal in an individual event was a bronze, and that came at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. click here

Indeed, it took time before Simone Manuel could reach this pinnacle, but her patience, determination and diligence paid off. She only placed 20th in the 50-meter freestyle (25.63) 17th in 100-meter freestyle (55.45) during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. click here

And her first Olympic gold was sweet victory too, for her triumph came on the heels of negative comments about African Americans by an official of the Italian Gymnastics Federation official David Ciaralli, when he defended the racist joke by Italian female gymnast Carlotta Ferlito.

'Why are there no black swimmers? Because their physical features don’t suit the sport.' Ciaralli also said that black people 'may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or a general manager' and that they aren’t good swimmers because they 'don’t have the buoyancy'. click here

Although there is a grain of truth in his remark about black swimmers - in that there are indeed still few African Americans in the sport of swimming in the U.S. - it is clear Ciaralli's words were meant as a racist jab, much like Ferlito's joke to her teammate, “ we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too,” after she failed to clinch the gold Simone Biles, African American gymnast, mightily won in the Rio Olympics.

Hence, Simone Manuel's Olympic gold win forges a new frontier for other African American youth who'll come after her.

Even Cullen Jones, “blown away” by and proud of Manuel's victorious Olympic feat, acknowledges the hope of future African American swimmers reaping gold in the Olympics.

“That was a moment; that’s an iconic moment right there,” said Jones, who barely missed qualifying for these Rio Games. “There’s going to be a little girl or little boy who’s watching that and going to go, ‘Wow, I want to do that.’ ” click here

A research made in 2014 found that in the United States, only few African Americans knew how to swim or swam regularly, compared with other Americans of other races. And it also found that members of U.S.A. Swimming, the nation’s governing body for the sport, were composed of only three percent of people of color. click here

Yet with Simone Manuel standing high and tall among the world's Olympian greats, the way becomes rosier for more African Americans and other people of color to make a big splash in swimming, dive into the pool of success, and promote greater diversity and inclusion in American swimming.

As one report said, swimming pools have been a racially sensitive flashpoint in the US for generations. click here

It is high time that African Americans be given the recognition that they too can excel in the sport of swimming, be included in policy-making decisions regarding the future of the sport in the country.

Here are inspiring quotes from Simone Manuel: click here

“For people who believe that they can’t do it. I hope I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.”

“This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”

“Coming into my first Olympics I didn’t think I was going to be getting a gold medal individually. My goal was just to get more experience, swim as fast as I can,”

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