Simone Manuel scores more than a medal

Grant Campbell

Anjanae Crump, Managing Editor

On August 11, Simone Manuel made history when she won the individual event in swimming at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She had a record time of 52.7 seconds, which tied her for gold with Penny Oleksiak of Canada. But what makes her so special goes much deeper than the speed she clocked in – Manuel is the first African American to ever win in that category.

Winning anything at the Olympics is a major accomplishment, but when the victory also breaks color barriers, it holds a certain significance that only a person who has experienced the deprivation of equality can truly understand.

After winning, Manuel said, “I mean, this medal is not just for me, it’s for a whole bunch of people who have come before me and been an inspiration to me. It’s for all the people after me who believe they can’t do it. I just want to be an inspiration to others: you can do it.”

An inspiration is exactly what she is. Black girls all over America got to see a role model that looks like them, their mothers, sisters and friends. They see a black woman on TV winning awards while accomplishing her dreams. They get to see that the same greatness they are conditioned to believe they’re not capable of is indeed within their reach.

It was only a few decades ago that a hotel in Las Vegas drained its entire pool after iconic black entertainer Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it. To go from not being allowed to swim in a pool to winning gold at the Olympics – for swimming – is a pretty amazing moment to behold. Not only does it break ridiculous stereotypes that black people can’t swim or that black women opt out of swimming to avoid messing their hair up, Manuel’s example shows that black women are fearless, even when faced with obstacles.

Manuel’s win bestows pride among the entire black community and hope for its younger generation. Pictures of little girls standing in front of the TV smiling next to the projected faces of powerful black women like Manuel are featured all over social media and show just how important representation truly is.

Simone Manuel’s Olympic journey has not been perfect, but her triumph shows that she can conquer just as much as any other woman. It reflects more than just beating the competition and winning a medal, it is beating the statistical odds and winning a place in life often exclusive of people who look like Simone Manuel.