Biles and Manuel.
What is the world going to do with them?
Hand out gold medals like it’s candy.
First Biles, 19, lived up to every expectation and all of the pressure of delivering one of the best performances of her life to win gold.
To start, the 4’8 gymnast’s vault, while beautifully executed, included an uncharacteristic step and hop on the landing. She rebounded by delivering a strong uneven bar routine, which is largely considered her weakest event among the four. And still, her early combined scores weren’t enough to keep the runaway favorite in first place. She briefly slipped to second place behind bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia (58.665). But regained the lead with near perfect balance beam and floor exercise routines — two events in which she is the defending world champion. Biles tumbled, flipped, and soared through the air as only Biles does — and stuck her landing atop the leaderboard with a final all-around score of 62.198. The gold medalist was joined on the podium by her American teammate Aly Raisman who won silver (60.098).
Hours later, USA swimmer Simone Manuel shocked the world with her Olympic record setting finish for the 100m freestyle event with a time of 52.70. Australia’s Cate Campbell was the favorite but Manuel glided through the water with such fortitude and precision, and pulled through with an upset. With each stroke, Manuel maintained focus of achieving of her goal — winning a gold medal. And that she did. Touching the wall first, Manuel tied with Canada’s Penny Olesiak. An achievement that has rewritten the history books forever. A victory that has the potential to literally change the complexion of an entire sport. With this win, Manuel became the first African-American women to place first and win an Olympic gold medal in swimming. She singlehandedly disproved a centuries old myth. Not only do black girls swim, but black girls are among the best in the world for doing so.
For some, Simone Manuel is a new kid on the block. Appearing in her first Olympic Games at 20-years-old, the Stanford swimmer has quietly been succeeding in the shadows of USA swimming phenoms Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin; Lia Neal, a two-time African-American Olympic swimmer; and the other Simone. But for others, Manuel’s monumental moment is no surprise. While competing earlier this week, Manuel led-off the 4x100m freestyle relay with the best time of anyone in her field — 53.36. Competing again in the individual competition, she once again proved to be the fastest by besting her own time by .66 seconds.
The two Simones have more in common than their names, gold medals, and Houston, TX roots; however.
They are breaking the mold and color barriers, in two predominately white sports, by simply utilizing their talents. Gymnastics and swimming are wildly inaccessible to the majority of Black children, and riddled with harmful stereotypes that limit our life skills and abilities. But maybe, just maybe more Black children will feel empowered to venture into unchartered territories because of Simone and Simone. or Gabby and Lia.
While the pressure to represent an entire race of people, during a period of social unrest, is unrealized by their white competitors, it’s pressure that Manuel not only acknowledged but embraced. “Coming into this race tonight, I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders, which is something I carry with me, just being in this position,” she reportedly said. “I’m super glad with the fact that I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport,” she added. “But at the same time, I would like there to be a day where there are more of us, and it’s not Simone, the black swimmer. The title black swimmer makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, or I’m not supposed to be able to break records. That’s not true because I work just as hard as anybody else, and I love the sport. I want to win just like everybody else.”
Manuel wasn’t alone in her statement win. Her namesake Biles shared a declaration of her own following Thursday’s golden finish, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
In other words, put some respeck on the gold medalists’ names.