Simone Manuel is one to see in Tokyo! On the last day of the trial, after winning 50 meters freestyle with a lead of only 0.01 seconds, Manuel secured his place and is on his way to the Olympics.
For a little background on Manuel’s swimming career, Manuel became back in 2016 the first black woman to win an individual Olympic medal, gold on it, in the 100 meter freestyle. She also helped Team USA fight the gold medal in the 4×100 meter medley and silver in the 4×100 meter freestyle, and she took home the silver medal in the 50 meter freestyle at the Olympics in Rio.
Then in 2019, Manuel won the 50- and 100-meter freestyle at the FINA World Championships and broke her old American record in the 100 for free, which again proved that her talent is not up for debate. Her times speak for themselves, as they always have. Manuel has once again proven that the nayayers are wrong as she rises to the top of the history books.
But transcending sports as we know it among people like Serena Williams, LeBron James and other elite athletes is never as clear, linear or effortless as it looks when viewed from the outside in. Not to mention the weight you carry to be a black woman in a sport that is predominantly white.
“It’s definitely hard at times because you’re one of very few,” Manuel told POPSUGAR in an interview in 2019. “When I was younger, it was hard too. But even now I feel it’s hard to fit in culturally. I grew up differently; I think differently; I have different opinions on some things. ” Like other black and brown athletes, Manuel has treated his fair share of negative messages from people who have nothing to do with her performance but everything to do with her running. “I think just with age, especially social media, it’s very easy for people to say things about me that are not really good,” she said. “Not because of my ability, but because of my skin color.”
“If I consistently focus on other people’s expectations, which are sometimes very low, I would not be so successful.”
At an early age, black parents preach the phrase “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far” to their children and prepare them for the prejudices and systematic discrimination they will inevitably face at some point in their lives – whatever how smart and talented they are, or how many items they crush. “I feel like I’ll have to keep proving myself … I feel like I have to consistently prove to other people time and time again that I deserve to be here,” Manuel said.
So drained as proving that the doubters are wrong, Manuel said, “Instead of feeling like I have to consistently prove myself to other people, I feel it’s important for me to consistently just expect a lot from myself. And I certainly think that has made me very successful, because if I consistently focus on other people’s expectations, which are sometimes very low, I would not be so successful. “
Taking a less than ideal situation and finding the lesson, the way to improve and get better, is embedded in the athletes’ DNA. “It’s really a blessing to be in this position. It’s hard. I feel like sometimes there’s a lot of weight on my shoulders,” she said. “But I do not think it is a responsibility that I take lightly or that I am ungrateful to have.” Every time she shows up for her four-hour exercises, every time she competes, every time she erases a record, she inspires people of color and people from underrepresented communities to learn to swim “or just to be themselves.”
“I obviously want to teach kids to swim and save their lives, but beyond that I just hope it opens the door for people to see, ‘Hi, Simone is a minority and [she] is good at swimming and she’s fine and she loves it and she does not let these stereotypes or bias stop her from pursuing her passion. “