There a lot of good black swimmers out there. However, there is a belief that most of us won’t swim competitively because of our hair, and that we would prefer to sit beside the pool rather than swim in it.
It’s true in a lot of cases, but not in all. And until more black men and women become professional swimmers, this mindset will continue. Hence, it’s important that Simone Manuel and Lia Neal are breaking that stereotype (and in the classiest way possible).
The two teammates from Stanford University will compete for the U.S. Olympic swimming team. This comes after the Olympics trials in Omaha, Nebraska last week, where they competed and both landed spots in the 4 x 100 freestyle team, inevitably making history. This will mark the first time in U.S. history that two or more black women have competed for the national swimming team at a major international tournament at the same time.
In the trials, Neal finished fourth in the 4 x 100 freestyle while Manuel finished in second place behind Abby Weitzell.
This is not the first time the girls have made history. During the 2012 Olympics in London, 21 year old Neal nabbed herself a bronze medal for finishing third in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. In 2015, the pair made up two of the three black athletes who finished in the top three positions during the 100-yard freestyle in the women’s NCAA swimming championships.
In these championships, Brooklyn-born Neal came in second while 19 year old Manuel finished first and swimmer Natalie Hinds completed the podium. Manuel, who comes from Houston, is now a two-time champion in the NCAA. She will also compete in the 50 meter freestyle.
The two young women, who are also close friends, will hope to bring back the medals and make their families, friends and country proud. This is a great time for young black women in sports; they are dominating in tennis, gymnastics and now swimming.