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Simone Manuel: First Female Black Swimmer to Win a Solo Olympic Gold


In 2016, Simone Manuel won an individual Olympic gold medal and became the first black American woman to achieve this feat. She’s the face of American swimming and is using her platform to champion more swimmers of color and address societal issues. In this post, we walk you through Simone’s journey to the 100M Olympic gold medal.

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Simone Manuel’s Early Career

Growing up, Simone was a multi-talented athlete. She played volleyball, soccer and basketball. She showed her swimming abilities at the age of four. On her second swimming lesson, Simone went through the entire pool, a sign that she was a special talent. 

Perhaps her athletic abilities aren’t a surprise. Her parents were athletes, and her siblings played basketball in college. That said, the Olympian wanted to quit swimming for dancing, but her mother convinced her to stick with it. At 11, she joined Houston’s First Colony Swim Team. 

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Competitive Swimming

Simone Manuel: First Female Black Swimmer to Win a Solo Olympic Gold
Simone Manuel representing the USA. Image Source: Instagram licensed under CC BY 2.0

Manuel participated in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and then the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championship. In the latter, she won the gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle. Manuel set a record of 54.60 in the relay heats on her leg. In 2013, Simone Manuel won gold in the 4 by 100 metres relay swimming. 

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Rio Olympic 2016 

The swimmer finished in the top three of the National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA Division I in 2015. After missing out on the Olympics in 2012, Manuel came second in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle Olympic trials, which was enough to qualify for the Olympics in Rio.

At the Summer Games, the American swimmer won a gold medal in the individual 100-meter freestyle in a time of 52.70. She became the first African-American woman to do so. Manuel also clinched gold in the 4 by 100m medley relay and silver medals in the 50m freestyle and 4 by 100M medley relay. 

Reflecting on the win, Simone Manuel told ESPN she didn’t expect to be the first African-American to win a gold medal in swimming. “My goal was to do well but I didn’t really think about the gold. That allowed me to take pressure off myself.” 

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Building on Olympic Success

The Olympic gold medalist achieved more success after the 2016 Olympics. She qualified for the World Championships, won five gold medals and set an American Record in the 50m, 100m and the 4 by 100m freestyle events.  

She repeated the feat at the 2019 World Aquatic Championships and became the first African American to sweep the 50m and 100m at a single aquatic meet. Additionally, Simone Manuels won seven gold medals, the most collected by a single swimmer in an aquatic event. 

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2021 Tokyo Olympics Hicupp

Fondly referred to as Swimone, she revealed that she overtrained. Unfortunately, it caught up with her before the 2021 Olympics. She was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome and was told to take a three-week break. 

The American told that people thought her success got into her head. “People didn’t believe that I actually was overtrained. They thought my success went to my head and that’s why I didn’t perform well.” 

In Tokyo, Manuel won bronze with the 4 by 100-meter relay team and failed to qualify for the 50-meter freestyle final.

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Going Professional

Simone Manuel turned professional in 2018 and signed with TYR Sport, Inc. 

The swimmer proved that black people can swim. She’s opened the doors for many and hopes that her work, on and off the pool, inspires other people to pursue their dreams.

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