Simone Manuel and Simone Biles celebrate with a selfie.
Simone Manuel and Simone Biles celebrate with a selfie.

Texas swimmer wins two golds and two silvers


Simone Manuel reacts after seeing her first-place finish on the scoreboard in the women’s 100m freestyle at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio on Aug. 11.(MARK REIS/COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE/TNS)
Simone Manuel reacts after seeing her first-place finish on the scoreboard in the women’s 100m freestyle at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio on Aug. 11.

RIO DE JANEIRO – When Simone Manuel woke up on Aug. 11, she was just another Olympic swimmer. Twenty-four hours later, the Sugar Land, Texas, native was front-page news.

LeBron James, Serena Williams and other celebrities tweeted their congratulations to Manuel, who became the first African-American woman to win an individual swimming medal.

“I didn’t know this,” Manuel said on Aug. 12 of the celebrity tweets, “but (swimmer) Lia Neal sent me a screen shot of it (Friday) morning, so I think that’s pretty cool.”

Tied with Canadian
Manuel achieved the impossible, overshadowing the much-anticipated Michael Phelps-Ryan Lochte showdown on one of the final nights of swimming. She tied Penny Oleksiak of Canada for the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, with their shared time of 52.70 setting an Olympic record.

Manuel’s roommate in the Athletes’ Village, swimmer Katie Ledecky, stayed awake until Manuel arrived at 2:30 a.m.

“I opened the door to the room, and she got up and gave me a hug and said, ‘I wasn’t going to fall asleep until I gave you a hug,’ and that really meant a lot to me,” said Manuel, who gave the U.S. a gold medal in the event for the first time since 1984. “She didn’t have to say much after that, because her staying up said enough in itself.”

A little research
Fellow Stanford students frequently mistake Manuel for a volleyball or basketball player. Manuel, 20, realized she was different than most swimmers when she was 11.

“She asked me a question about why she didn’t see many others like herself in the sport of swimming,” Sharron Manuel, Simone’s mother, said on Aug. 12. “I didn’t have an answer for it immediately, and I said, ‘That’s a good question. I don’t know. Let’s look it up.’

“We got on the Internet, and we looked up information, and we pulled different articles and started reading. I think for her that was the moment that she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”

‘Hope and change’
At her news conference after her victory, Manuel acknowledged the history she made. Manuel said she wanted her gold medal to serve as an impetus for “hope and change,” accepting she now has a role to play as an inspiration to other African-Americans.

“It comes with the territory, because there aren’t many of us in the sport of swimming, and we definitely talk a lot about that with Simone,” Sharron Manuel said.

“When she was about 15 in high school, we started talking to her about swimming isn’t just going to be about her and that there will be a point in her life when the swimming will be more than just for her, that it will be a time when she will have to share that gift with the world, and it will carry a message.”

Won’t change
While Manuel’s victory might elicit change, at least in her sport, she insists the gold medal won’t change her.

“I’m the kind of person that tries to stay the same,” she said. “I’m glad I can be an inspiration to others, but I haven’t really thought about how my life has changed.”

Manuel won a silver medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay Sunday night and a silver in the women’s 50-meter freestyle.

Biles ‘just at another level’ among gymnasts

RIO DE JANEIRO – Aly Raisman won the silver medal in the floor exercise, the last event of women’s gymnastics, and considered herself the best in the world.

Simone Biles delivers a gold-medal performance in the individual women’s floor exercise final on Tuesday.(MARK REIS/COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE/TNS)
Simone Biles delivers a gold-medal performance in the individual women’s floor exercise final on Tuesday.

That’s because Simone Biles is otherworldly.

“I don’t even consider myself competing against her,” Raisman said. “She’s just at another level.

She’s incredible.”

Biles won her fourth gold medal and fifth medal of the Rio Games on Tuesday. The Spring, Texas, resident joins swimmers Katie Ledecky (2016) and Missy Franklin (2012) as the only American women with five medals at a single Olympics.

“It’s pretty insane what I’ve accomplished in my first Olympics,” Biles said. “It’s definitely rewarding, and I’m very proud of myself. I don’t know. It’s crazy …”

Consistent gymnast
Biles competed every day of women’s gymnastics competition, performing 11 times. Eight times she scored above 15, including Tuesday when she had a 15.966 in the floor exercise, which was .466 better than second-place Raisman.

It was Biles’ consistency day in and day out that stood out.

“The reward is the medal, but if you don’t bring your best performance, she’s not satisfied,” said Aimee Boorman, Biles’ personal coach.

Biles’ best performance might have been her worst score, a 14.733 in the balance beam Monday.

Biles had a low takeoff on a front somersault, grabbing the 4-inch-wide beam to regain her balance.

The fact that she didn’t fall off tells the story of how good Biles is.

The fact that she still won the bronze — not lost the gold — despite an automatic half-point deduction explains how great Biles is.

“The fact that somehow because that expectation (to win five gold medals) was put on her, it became a letdown that she got a bronze on beam,” said Boorman, who works at the Biles-owned World Champions Centre in Spring. “It’s like, ‘No, that’s still an amazing accomplishment.’ And it’s even more amazing that she stayed on the beam with her two toes.”

In great company
It became firmly established after team and individual gold medals that Biles would leave Rio as the greatest gymnast ever, supplanting Nadia Comaneci. Only four other women in artistic gymnastics have won four gold medals in a single Olympics, the last coming in 1984 by Romanian Ecaterina Szabo.

Biles, 19, appears to be the only one in gymnastics not signing off on the idea.

“I don’t know,” Biles said. “I would never rank myself. It’s weird.”

Gymnasts aren’t long for their world, and this likely was the last we see of Biles in the Olympics. Boorman knows as much, becoming emotional when asked the question.

What’s next?
Biles isn’t ready to address her future, though.

“First, we’re going to have some fun, and I don’t want to think about it yet,” Biles said. “We all need to have a little bit of a break and kind of trying to be normal once we get back home.”

One thing Biles will never see again is normalcy. Everyone will recognize her as the star she is. Five medals, four of them gold, will prove life-changing.

“It is kind of scary with the public eye being on me at all times, but it’s rewarding as well,” Biles said. “I think we’ll get used to it.”

Biles twice held up her index finger after winning the floor exercise. She is the one and only, and not just in one event.



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