Simone Manuel Makes Swimming History In Women's 100-Meter Freestyle

She's the first African-American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event.

Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event on Thursday, after setting an Olympics record in the women’s 100-meter freestyle.

In a rare occurrence, Manuel, 20, tied with Canadian Penny Oleksiak, 16. Both finished the race in 52.70 seconds, an Olympics record. Swede Sarah Sjostrom finished third.

Oleksiak’s win is also historic. Born in June 2000, she is the first person to win an individual Olympic gold who wasn’t born in the 1900s, The Guardian noted. Manuel and Oleksiak hugged in the pool after tying for gold.

Adam Pretty via Getty Images
Adam Pretty via Getty Images
GABRIEL BOUYS via Getty Images
Credit: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

An emotional Manuel spoke about her feat moments after exiting the pool, saying the gold medal was “for all the people after me ... who believe they can’t do it.”

“It means a lot, this medal is not just for me. This is for a whole bunch of people who have come before me, and have been an inspiration to me,” Manuel told NBC. “It’s for all the people after me who can’t — who believe they can’t do it. And I just want to be an inspiration to others, that you can do it.”

Manuel picked up a silver medal earlier this week with her teammates in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay.

USA Swimming notes that Manuel has been active in the organization’s governance, serving as an athlete representative on a diversity and inclusion committee.

Manuel said in an article posted on the USA Swimming website in February that there wasn’t a great amount of diversity in the pool when she began swimming, until athletes like Cullen Jones and Maritza Correia McClendon made the U.S. Olympic team. She said she sees her role as a female swimmer of color as important for future athletes.

“When I was younger, I didn’t want to be called the black swimmer, or the African-American swimmer, because I was doing what everyone else was doing, so I didn’t see a difference. But I do realize that who I am and what I am doing does carry some weight and can show people that if I can do, they can do it too. And I didn’t really think of anyone relating to the trials and tribulations I went through until people started looking up to me, and I realized others have felt or are feeling alone, too ...

A lot of people go through a lot more than I did to lead the way, and I got a lot of support from parents and coaches during those hard times. But that’s what makes it mean more as the sport moves forward and the diversity increases, so other kids don’t have to keep feeling that way ever again.”

Thursday night was yet another epic one for Team USA, as Michael Phelps snagged a history-making 22nd gold in the 200-meter individual medley, and Ryan Murphy won his second gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke.

Simone Manuel, Penny Oleksiak and Sarah Sjostrom with their medals for the 100 meter freestyle.
Simone Manuel, Penny Oleksiak and Sarah Sjostrom with their medals for the 100 meter freestyle.
Credit: Christophe Simon/Getty Images

CORRECTION: Language has been amended to indicate that Oleksiak is the first person not born in the 1900s to win an individual gold medal; Laurie Hernandez preceded her in winning a team gold.

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