Column: It’s time to respect, and appreciate, Simone Manuel

Published 7:58 pm Monday, July 29, 2019

Simone Manuel became the first American woman to sweep 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle this past weekend at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. She came back to the states with four gold medals and seven medals overall from the eight-day competition. The seven medals are the most ever won at a single championships by a woman.

In the 100-meter freestyle, Manuel wasn’t favored because of her performances earlier in the week and in the 4×100-meter mixed medley relay as well, when Australia’s Cate Campbell raced past her. Based off of her time in the qualifier, she was placed in lane one in the final, a lane where swimmers typically don’t win events.

Manuel won the race by a decent margin of .42 seconds, setting a new American record of 52.04 seconds in the event. The win was considered an upset, an eerily similar situation that she found herself in two years ago.

At the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Manuel was in the lane next to Sweedish world-record holder Sarah Sjöström. Sjöström was heavily favored in the event, and led at the halfway point before Manuel powered her way through to win the event in “upsetting” fashion with a time of 52.27 seconds, an American record at the time before she broke it this past weekend.

Manuel went on to avenge her second-place finish in the 4×100-meter mixed medley relay by cruising past Campbell and Australia as the anchor of the women’s 4×100-meter medley relay final for gold. The United States bested Australia by 3.07 seconds in the competition.

In the 50-meter freestyle, she raced the length of the pool in 24.05 seconds to earn her third gold and fifth overall medal in the competition.

Manuel also won gold in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, and silvers in the 4×100-meter freestyle and 4×200-meter freestyle.

It is clear that the four-time Olympic medalist and 22-year-old is becoming one of the more accomplished swimmers of our time.

Her greatness shouldn’t be overlooked, taken for granted or simply put, underestimated. As former Houston Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjonavich famously phrased, the heart of a champion should never be underestimated. It’s a quote that ironically fits the career of the Houston-native Manuel, who is constantly “upsetting” her favored competitors time-after-time.

Next summer in Tokyo, Japan, the American swimming headlines will probably be dominated by Caeleb Dressel, who is on pace to continue breaking multiple records set by Michael Phelps; and Katie Ledecky, who will be coming off of a world championship competition where she battled illness.

When it’s all said and done for Manuel’s career, many will continue to label her as the “black swimmer,” or the first black swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal in a swimming event when she “upset” Australian swimmers Bronte and Cate Campbell in 2016. While carrying the label of being a groundbreaker holds a lot of weight that goes beyond sports, her current accomplishments shouldn’t be overshadowed simply because she is more than an answer on trivia night, she’s one of the more accomplished active athletes in all of sports.

 

Rashad Milligan is the sports editor of The Valley Times-News. He can be contacted at rashad.milligan@valleytimes-news.com.