That's why, when Manuel won gold Thursday night, she wasn't just an athlete excelling at her sport.
Thursday night in Rio, for the first time in history, a black woman won an individual swimming medal in the Olympics. Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old from Sugar Land, Texas, tied for the gold medal in the women's 100-meter freestyle with an Olympic record time of 52.70 seconds.
After winning, Manuel said, 'The gold medal wasn't just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport. For people who believe that they can't do it. I hope I'm an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.'
It's an amazing accomplishment when anyone competes — let alone medals — at the Olympics. But there is a particular, fraught history that follows black Americans and swimming, which Manuel may have…