After becoming the first African American woman to claim an individual Olympic medal in swimming, Simone Manuel said her victory in the 100-meter freestyle had even more meaning.
With racial tensions roiling the United States, Manuel used her newly achieved platform to speak out.
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel told reporters in Rio. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
She said was well aware of what her status as an elite swimmer meant in societal terms and, coming into Thursday’s final, it wasn’t easy to set aside the broader implications given the potential to make history.
“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.”
In victory, she said the win isn’t solely for her.
“This medal is not just for me. It is for some of the African Americans who have come before me,” she told reporters, referencing former African American 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.”
In the wake of her victory, many have already drawn inspiration from her performance.