American swimmer Simone Manuel spoke out about the United States’ police brutality controversy after claiming a historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the Rio Olympics on Thursday night.
That tied her with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak, the pair sharing a new Olympic record and both receiving a gold medal.
Manuel said that her victory was extra special in the context of ongoing race issues in the U.S.
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Australia’s Cate Campbell was a strong favorite going into the race, but Manuel remained calm as her rival faded. Manuel finished in blistering fashion.
When Manuel looked up after touching the wall, she saw red lit dots on her block that indicated she had at least finished among the podium places, and admitted she was “super surprised” when she turned around and saw the “1” next to her name on the scoreboard.
For Manuel, the victory could not have been sweeter. In the lead-up to the event she forced herself to briefly distance herself from the significance of being a rare black swimmer representing the U.S, in order to focus on chasing victory.
“It is something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot,” Manuel said. “Coming into the race I tried to take 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.”
When Manuel and teammate Lia Neal were both selected for Rio, it was the first time two black female athletes were chosen to be on the American swim team at the same time.
Manuel will compete again later in the meet in the 50-meter freestyle and previously took silver as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay team.
“This medal is not just for me. It is for some of the African-Americans who have come before me,” she added, referencing former Olympians Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones. “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.
Larry brown Sport