Tears of joy streamed down the face of Olympian gold medalist winner, Simone Manuel, as she sang the national anthem. And for good reason — the 20-year-old made history August 11 as the first black woman to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event.
Manuel has worked hard to achieve her dream and began swimming at the age of 4. The pool isn’t the only thing she has dominated, as she is also a student at the elite Stanford University. The athlete has also played a plethora of other sports in her years.
But some are saying Manuel didn’t get the attention she deserves or that others get because she is black.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Made Olympic History
Simone Manuel made history August 11 as the first black woman to win Olympic gold in an individual swimming event.
“It’s been a long journey for me. I definitely worked hard these past four years, day in and day out. Just to see it pay off when I really needed it is something I’m really grateful for. I have to attribute that to my coaches and my teammates who have pushed me to never give up,” Manuel said after the race.
After hitting the wall at the exact same second, Manuel tied for the gold with Penny Oleksiak of Canada. The two set an Olympic record at 52.70 seconds in the women’s 100-meter freestyle.
2. Some Have Claimed She Wasn’t Getting Proper Attention Because She is Black
Criticism over claims that Manuel was treated differently and not getting enough attention because she is black have flooded the internet. Mercury News apologized after a headline on the Olympian read, “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.” Many criticized the publication for not using her name in the headline, and for feeling the need to tie Phelps into the win.
They later changed the headline and tweeted, “We apologize for an insensitive headline earlier on a story about Simone Manuel and Michael Phelps’ medal wins.”
Others are upset that the gold medalist didn’t seem to get the same attention as her peers. Atlantic Blackstar said, “Manuel’s first-place position was largely passed over on-air. The network tweeted out her finish after it happened, but Black Twitter was disappointed at the lack of acknowledgment by analysts.”
3. She Began Swimming at the Age of 4
In an interview with SwimSwam, Manuel’s mother, Sharron Manuel said:
Simone was introduced to swimming by watching her two older brothers swim summer league. She always loved the water and thoroughly enjoyed swimming. When she was 4 years old she asked to join the swim team. I didn’t think she was ready so to appease her, I told her she had to take swim lessons first (as her brothers did). We enrolled her in swim lessons that summer and on the 2nd day of lessons, the swim instructor had her swim across the pool. That was the 1st eye opener for me. Simone continued to only swim summer league and experimented with other sports and activities but swimming was her favorite.
Manuel admitted that it hasn’t always been easy being a black swimmer in the spotlight. “I have felt like quitting. I always had an issue with not seeing ‘people that looked like me’ in the sport. My parents and I, myself think this will be a hard journey, but God has a plan for me to use my talents and encourage others,'” she told the Huffington Post in 2015.
4. She Attends Stanford University
According to Team USA, Manuel will be a sophomore this fall at Stanford University and is looking to major in communications.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Manuel was asked how she is able to balance everything. “As far as classes, I communicate with my teachers early, and I study the syllabus. The syllabus always keeps me on track. With socializing, I have an easy time keeping up with my friends (especially my dorm friends). We eat lunch and dinner together and sometimes do our homework in the lounge. I always find time for naps, so that allows me to stay balanced and take care of all my priorities,” she replied.
5. She Has Played Several Other Sports & Loves That Swimming Is a ‘Social Sport’
In an interview with USA Swimming, Manuel said her parents made her take swimming lessons as a little girl to be “water safe,” never expecting her to take swimming so seriously. To her parents the most important thing was that she has fun in what she does. She has played a lot of sports including volleyball, running, soccer and ballet, but swimming was always her favorite.
Manuel, of Sugar Land, Texas, loves the social aspect of swimming. “My favorite memory from age group swimming was definitely being able to see my friends everyday. I mean swimming is definitely a very social sport…and just being able to go to practice and see them, and hang out with them and do something I love is one of my favorite memories,” she said.