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Proud mother of Simone Manuel reveals a woman who has embraced being a role model since a young girl
Her daughter made history last night as the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming.
But Simone Manuel’s proud mom Sharron said today that she never believed her talented daughter would let race stop her from achieving sporting stardom.
The 20-year-old athlete claimed a share of the gold in the women’s 100m freestyle with Canadian teenager Penny Oleksiak.
Proud mom: Sharon Manuel, from Sugar Loaf, Texas, says she has always encouraged her daughter to speak up, saying she knew from an early age she could make a difference
And while the swimming world has known about the champion college athlete for years, Manuel’s achievement last night in Rio has made her an overnight star back in the US.
‘We have always told her that her value was in who she was as a person not just because of her skin color,’ Sharron said. ‘Her skin color is who she because that’s the way God made her but it is her responsibility to do the best she can with the gifts that he has given her.
‘We have always just emphasized encouraging her to be the best Simone that she can be.’
Manuel and Oleksiak jointly set a new Olympic record time of 52.70 seconds in an event America had not won since 1984.
Tears streamed down the young Team USA star’s cheeks as she emerged from the pool and gave a powerful interview decrying racial tensions in the US and the recent police shootings of unarmed black men.
‘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.’
Today Sharron said her daughter was embracing her status as a role model and saw swimming as a ‘vehicle’ for good.
‘Simone spoke from her heart and that’s exactly how she feels,’ said the mom-of-three. ‘We encourage her to stand up for what she believes in and to do it in a responsible manner. So I don’t have any problem with what she said.’
Manuel also has a silver medal to her name after helping the US women’s team to second in the 4x100m freestyle.
She began swimming at age four in her hometown of Sugar Loaf, a suburb of Houston, with Sharron and her IT worker husband Marc wanting her to be safe in water.
Only years later did Manuel question why there were so few African-American swimmers around her.
‘When she was about 11 years old she did come to me once and we just were at home just having casual conversations,’ said Sharron. ‘She asked about why didn’t see many others like herself in the sport of swimming and I didn’t have an answer for her immediately.
‘We got on the internet and we looked up information and pooled different articles and reading. For her that was the moment that she realized she had a bigger role to play.’
Manuel broke a national record for her age group the day she turned 17 and is a two-time N.C.A.A. swimming champion.
She excelled on the swim team at Stanford University in California, where her mom has been her roommate for much of this year to help her prepare for her first Olympics.
The tense finish at the Aquatic arena Thursday night was almost too much for Sharron to bear.
‘We had all sorts of emotion running through us,’ she added. ‘When she got on the block I actually had a sense of peace and calmness because at that point from me it was just a case of go out there and do your best.
‘I will be proud of you whether you come home with the gold or not, with first or second or third or seventh or eighth, because this was just a dream that she had for a long time.
‘Just to see her get up on that block was just awesome for us. As the race progressed we got more and more excited and at the end it was just really one of the most exciting moments.
‘To see Simone’s emotions, her raw emotions, really said it all for all of us.’
The first black woman to earn a place on the US swim team was Maritza Correia who is also famous for being the first African American female swimmer to break an American record in 2002.
She went onto help Team USA secure a silver medal on the 400-meter freestyle relay at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.