Simone Manuel and Reflections on 2016

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

by Lander Eicholzer, Swimming World College Intern

2016 was a great year for swimming. It was an Olympic year, after all, and the United States reasserted its global dominance in the sport after a less-than-stellar 2015 World Championships. In fact, in a year that was objectively terrible in the wider culture, sports provided some relief.

Simone Biles took gymnastics to new heights, Serena Williams won her 23rd tennis major, and Joel Embiid began the process of redefining the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers. However, 2016 was also the year Prince died, so did Alan Rickman. Kim Kardashian was robbed of millions in jewels and had a gun put to her head. What is the common thread here? All of these events unfolded on Twitter more than anywhere else. 2016, more than any year before it, was the year Twitter provided an accessible platform for cultural discourse.

Of all the swimmers that shocked the swimming world this year, Simone Manuel takes top prize for her upset win over Cate Campbell in Rio. As the first black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming, Manuel provided hope that swimming can be more diverse, more inclusive, more equitable. She is a young icon. Several months ago, I wrote that Manuel was the favorite to win two NCAA titles for the Stanford Cardinal. She’s gotten up to plenty since then, like reading children’s books on the White House lawn with Michelle Obama, being named to Ebony Magazines‘ Power 100, and posting the fastest time in the country in the 200 yard freestyle.

After her stunning Olympic triumph, Buzzfeed News profiled the impact Manuel had for people of color in sports in a series of tweets. Twitter is brilliant because its content is packaged in manageable bits, without the aesthetic management that characterizes far too many Instagram accounts, and is free of distant relatives and high school classmates, hallmarks of Facebook.

manuel family pic1

Photo Courtesy: Manuel Family

Manuel herself is brilliant not just for her Stanford smarts, but her fearless competitive drive. When following Manuel online, her passion for the sport of swimming is infectious and uplifting. Manuel definitely reads like the sort of person you’d want to be friends with; someone who loves dogs as much as she cares for her family. She’s an anchor on a Stanford women’s team that looks like it should wreak havoc on the NCAA and American record books this spring.

Some credit should be given to Stanford coach Greg Meehan, who somehow managed to get this collection of stars together without exceeding the NCAA scholarship limit. But the greatest credit for Stanford’s success ought to go to the athletes themselves, who should contribute considerably to the legacy of one of the greatest programs in NCAA history this March.

There are, admittedly, more important things to be concerned with than what Simone Manuel is tweeting, like how to stick to a disciplined sleep schedule, maintain academic excellence amid training, and saying no to junk food. However, in a year that has been decidedly awful, the world could use a few more Simone Manuels. The New Year provides an opportunity for new beginnings in the pool and online. If I had to write a holiday card, I would say this: Simone, I hope you win another global title this year. Continue to shine and break down barriers. You are incredible. Cheers to a better 2017, everyone!

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Toby Shannon

    I feel compelled to comment Simon Manuel. Such a big deal has been made of her being the first black female swimmer to win at the Olympics. Why can’t she be referred to as a swimmer first who happens to be black. They never said that Michael Phelps was the greatest white swimmer of all time, Manuel is a great sprinter period. Judge her on her achievements not on the color of her skin.
    Not a lecture just a observation.