I teared up as I watched Simone Manuel make history in the pool last night in a stunning, remarkable performance.
Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming last night. She also set a new Olympic record in the women’s 100-meter freestyle: 52.70 seconds (a title she shared with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, who tied for gold). An American hasn’t won a gold medal in this event in 30 years! Her performance marked a victory for US swimming and also over a particularly racist history in the pool, per Vox.
Manuel’s gold was monumental for overcoming an era of racism and segregation that has played out in swimming pools. “The nation’s swimming pool history is intimately tied to racism,” per Washington Post. The pool was a space that deeply held onto to segregation with an immense focus on separating black men and white women. “Swimming pools have always been spaces where social inequalities have played out,” per Vox. Higher quality pools were more accessible to upper class, white populations.
Although legally sanctioned segregation is more or less behind us, racism is still a very live, and current issue. Manuel is hopeful that her win will bring positive change. “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said via USA Today. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Manuel spilled tears during the medal ceremony, celebrating years of hard work. Those tears were not just for herself, though, but also for people who inspired her and for young girls, who feel that maybe now they can swim too.
“I definitely think it raises some awareness and will get them inspired,” Manuel said, per Washington Post, “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’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.”
But Manuel does not want her race to define her performance. “I’m super-glad with the fact that I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport,” she said. “But at the same time, I would like there to be a day where there are more of us and it’s not, ‘Simone, the black swimmer.’” per Washington Post.
Her record-breaking performance certainly stood on its own.
(photo credit: NBC/youtube)
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