Sports

Simone Manuel’s Christian witness permeates everything she does

In an Olympics where many athletes are sharing their faith, Manuel's regularly dominates her discussions even on social media

USA's Simone Manuel reacts after she won the Women's 100m Freestyle Final during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016.   / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS

GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

When American swimmer Simone Manuel touched the wall of the pool on Thursday night she made Olympic history. Manuel became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. Along with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, Manuel set a new Olympic record with her time of 52.70.

Immediately after the exhausting 100-meter freestyle race, Manuel was interviewed by NBC and fighting back tears she said, “All I can say is all glory to God, it’s definitely been a long journey these last four years…and I’m just so blessed to have a gold medal.”

She then explained to reporters that she hopes her example will help break down stereotypes and eliminate the focus on her race.

“That’s something I definitely struggled with a lot…Just coming into this race I kind of tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders, which is something I carry with me just being in this position. I do hope that kind of goes away.”

Manuel hopes that other African American swimmers will join her, and that race will cease to be the attribute that dominates the conversation about her swimming career.

“I’m super-glad I can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport, but at the same time I’d like there to be a day when there will be 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 break records.”

Manuel hails from Sugar Land, Texas and currently swims for Stanford. She has been a dominant force in women’s swimming during the past few years, becoming a two-time N.C.A.A. swimming champion. She is also friends with gymnast Simone Biles, who is also from Texas and similarly shares a strong Christian faith.

More to read: Simone Biles, nice Catholic girl who still makes it to Mass and prays

She is not afraid to use her social media to share her Christian convictions, referencing “Phil 4:13” in her Twitter and Instagram bios and writing to her followers, “All Glory to God! Isn’t He awesome! I am extremely blessed.”

Manuel is one of the many Christian athletes this year who have used the Olympic stage to honor God for their success. Her words are reminiscent of divers Steele Johnson and David Boudia, who told NBC, “We both know that our identity is in Christ, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.”

While Manuel is better known in the swimming community, she has been pushed into the global spotlight with her gold medal. The nonprofit organization Diversity in Aquatics said in an interview that “Manuel’s victory could help reverse…a cultural fear of swimming among African-Americans” and encourage others to become lifeguards, coaches and swimmers. Her win even received the attention of tennis superstar Serena Williams, who voiced her support on Instagram.

Manuel looks forward to returning to Stanford in the fall and will be joined by another swimmer inspired by Christ, Katie Ledecky.

More to read: Medals don’t love you back: What Michael Phelps discovered had the power to save him

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Philip Kosloski

Philip Kosloski is a husband and father of five, and staff writer at Aleteia. He also writes for The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer), and blogs at the National Catholic Register.