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It was an emotional moment last night when Simone Manuel, drenched in water and tears, clutched the gold medal in swimming during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The accomplishment is historic — with no other African-American woman ever winning the world’s highest prize in the sport. Manuel swam for all of us when the 20-year-old won the 100-meter freestyle swimming event with a record-breaking time of 52.70 seconds.

Manuel was very aware of the significance of the win, saying:

“This medal is not just for me, it’s for a whole bunch of people who have come before me and who have been inspirational for me … Maritza Correia (first Black woman to earn place on the U.S. Olympic swim team). And it’s for all the people after me, who believe they can’t do it … and I just want to be an inspiration to others — that you can do it,” she told the crowd during her post-win interview.

Swimming carries a certain stigma in the Black community, stemming from decades of segregation where African-Americans were often denied access to pools.

As a result, many generations of Black people never learned to swim — and so they didn’t have the tools to teach their children.

But with Manuel’s win, this age-old athletic ceiling has been shattered, leaving space for more Black women to swim behind her.


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