Born in Texas in 1996, Simone Manuel became an elite competitive swimmer after joining Houston's First Colony Swim Team at age 11. She established a record for her age group in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2013 World Championships, and went on to set several school records as a member of the Stanford University team. Manuel made history at the 2016 Summer Olympics by becoming the first African-American swimmer to win an individual gold medal, and by the conclusion of competition she had added another gold and two silvers to her collection.
Simone Ashley Manuel was born on August 2, 1996, in Sugar Land, Texas. The future Olympian came of age in an athletic household: Her parents, Marc and Sharron, are both former student athletes, and her older brothers, Chris and Ryan, went on to play college basketball.
Manuel's swimming career took off at age 4, when Sharron agreed to let her take lessons. By the second day, when Manuel swam clear across the 15-meter pool, it was clear she was a natural in the water.
Manuel competed in other sports during her childhood, and at age 10 she considered quitting swimming in favor of dance classes. Sharron convinced her to continue with both activities, and by age 11, Manuel had resumed her dedication to the sport by joining the First Colony Swim Team in Houston.
Under the guidance of First Colony coach Allison Beebe, Simone Manuel developed into the top-ranked swimmer in her age group in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events.
She made her international debut at 2011 FINA World Junior Championships, earning a fourth-place finish in the 100m free. The following year, she made a splash at the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships by surging to a win in the 100m.
Manuel further boosted her profile with a string of eye-opening performances in 2013. After earning a spot in the FINA World Championships, she set a record for the 15-16-year-old age group with a time of 24.80 seconds in the 50m free. She also took a home a gold medal as part of the 4x100-m free team.
Following her graduation from Fort Bend Austin High School in 2014, Manuel established herself as a star of the Stanford University swim program by setting multiple school records. She capped her outstanding freshman season at the NCAA Division I Championships with wins in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events, the later producing a new American record.
With the 2016 Rio Olympics on the horizon, Manuel elected to take a year off of school to focus on her training. She won the 50m and 100m free at 2015 AT&T Winter Nationals, and then earned a berth on the Olympic team the following summer by finishing second in both events at the U.S. Trials.
Making Olympic History
Simone Manuel's Olympic experience got off to a strong start when she helped the women’s 4x100m free relay team set an American record with its silver medal-winning performance on August 6.
However, the attention received for that effort was all but drowned out by the conclusion of the 100m free on August 11. Somewhat overlooked in a field that featured world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia, Manuel came from behind to tie Canada's Penny Oleksiak at the finish with a time of 52.70 seconds. The mark, which established a new Olympic record, also made Manuel the first African-American swimmer to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics. Her reaction to the result, a mix of surprise and elation, became one of the defining moments of the Summer Games.
"The gold medal wasn’t just for me," she said afterward. "It was for people who came before me and inspired me to stay in this sport, and for people who believe that they can’t do it. I hope that I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. They might be pretty good at it. "
Manuel later added to her Olympic haul by winning the silver medal in the 100m free, and then anchoring the 4x100m medley relay team that notched the United States' 1,000th gold medal in Summer Olympics competition. It was a fitting conclusion to the Games for Manuel, who seized the chance to make history and headed home as one of her country’s most celebrated champions.
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