We all know that there are quite a few Black people out there who swim and swim very well (hence the need for such images like this one on the cover of the New Yorker by Kadir Nelson), but the prevailing story is that most of us don’t, won’t because of our hair, and would rather sit poolside than wade inside of it. Until more people see us swimming in the mainstream, that will continue to be the common belief. But Lia Neal, 21, and Simone Manuel, 19, are changing all of that.
The pair, both Stanford teammates and good friends, will both swim for the U.S. Olympic team after competing in the Olympic trials last week in Omaha, Nebraska and landing a spot on the 4 x 100 freestyle team. With such success, it’s the first time two Black women will compete on the U.S. swim team at the same time. Manuel came in second behind Abby Weitzell during the 4 x 100, Neal came in fourth to round out the team.
Both women are used to making history, as Neal, a Brooklyn-born swimmer, won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics in London. And in 2015, Neal and Manuel were two of three Black people to place in the top three spots for the 100-yard freestyle during the Women’s NCAA swimming championships. Manuel came in first, Neal came in second and swimmer Natalie Hinds came in third.
Manuel, a Houston native, is also adding the 50 meter freestyle to her list of events for the Olympics in Rio.
When speaking about her first trip to the Olympics, Manuel told NBC, “I was pretty nervous for most of my races. Just making the team in itself is a great accomplishment. Just getting to Rio, all the nerves will be gone and I think I’ll be able to swim a little bit faster.”
Manuel took last year off from swimming at Stanford so she could focus on training for the Olympics. Thankfully, all of her hard work and dedication paid off.
As for Neal, she took to Twitter to say, “I’m a two-time Olympian and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, coaches, and friends. I am thankful beyond words.”
Be sure to add these two accomplished ladies to your list of people to watch next month in Rio.