Simone Manuel’s Oympics Victory Is Historic

by Seth Millstein

The American team scored yet another victory at the 2016 Olympics in Rio when Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event after tying for the gold in the 100-meter individual freestyle on late Thursday. An American woman hasn't won a gold medal in the 100-meter individual freestyles since 1984, but Manuel also has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to win an individual medal in swimming.

Manuel and Canada's Penny Oleksiak both scored times of 52.70 seconds in the event. This was the first time two athletes have tied for a Summer Olympic gold medal since the 2000 Games in Sydney, when Anthony Ervin and Gary Hall, Jr. made the same time in the 50-meter freestyle.

"This medal is not just for me. It's for a whole bunch of people who have come before me, and have been an inspiration to me," Manuel said in a post-race interview. "And for other people after me, who believe they can't do it, and I just want to be an inspiration to others who can do it."

It wasn't Manuel's first victory at the Rio Games: Earlier in the week, the 20-year-old Texas native took home the silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle relay. And in 2014, she took home the bronze medal at the Pan-Pacific Championships.

Her win on Thursday was something of a surprise, as the United States wasn't expected to take home a medal, let alone the gold, during the event. Manuel, who was once referred to as "fearless" by fellow Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin, defeated both Bronte Campbell of Australia, the reigning world champion, and Cate Campbell, Bronte's sister and a world-record holder in her own right.

A different sort of record was also set during the 100-meter individual freestyle. Oleksiak was born in 2000, and this makes her the first Olympic gold medalist in any event to have been born in the 21st century, though one could perhaps dispute whether 2000 counts as the last year of the 20th century or the first year of the 21st century.

“This is amazing, to tie for a gold,” Oleksiak said after tying with Manuel. “I never thought I’d win a gold. [Manuel] deserves it as much as me.”

This year's Olympic victories for the United States are important not just for the incredible athleticism involved in them, but also for their message of inclusivity and diversity. America cannot be defined by one culture, race, or identity, and Team USA has done a remarkable job of projecting that.