“The gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport,” she said. “For people who believe that they can’t do it. I hope I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.”
She also said she was aware of what her victory meant in the current political climate in the US. “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
Manuel was part of an extraordinary 100m freestyle final, in which she tied for first place with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, who only turned 16 in June.
Both athletes had enjoyed success earlier in the Games. Manuel won silver with the US relay team, and Oleksiak claimed silver in the 200m butterfly and two bronzes in the freestyle relays.
Manuel said she had not expected to win gold. “Coming into my first Olympics I didn’t think I was going to be getting a gold medal individually. My goal was just to get more experience, swim as fast as I can,” she said. “And after prelims and semi-finals and seeing where I was sitting, when I came in tonight I was like, ‘I want to get on that medal stand’. Just surpassing that goal and getting an American record on top of a gold medal is super exciting for me.”
The 20-year-old was also asked how it felt to share a gold medal. “I wouldn’t say it’s weird. I mean, the 100 free was pretty close,” said Manuel. “Just in terms of sharing that with Penny, she’s an awesome girl. I just met her at this meet, and two youngins sprinting, I think it’s good for the sport and breaks the stereotypes of sprinting.”
Manuel and Oleksiak’s golds were made all the more remarkable by the fact that they beat the world record holder, Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell finished in fourth place after leading at the halfway point; her sister Bronte came home in sixth.
Manuel’s gold came on the same day that another Simone – Biles – won gold for the US in the women’s all-around gymnastics. Manuel said she and Biles were close. “We’re basically the same person,” she said, “and we’re both going back to Houston with gold medals”
Earlier in the evening Ryan Murphy had won another gold for the US in the pool, as he came home first in the 200m backstroke. Michael Phelps added the 22nd gold of his career with victory in the 200m individual medley. His old rival Ryan Lochte could only finish in fifth place.