The pool has long been home to Simone Manuel. Outside of it, the Olympic champion is pushing herself in a new endeavor to boost the profile of women’s sports.
She joined with fellow Olympians Sue Bird, Chloe Kim and Alex Morgan to launch TOGETHXR, a media and commerce company aimed at girls and women. It will create content for social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok as well as its own YouTube channel. Billie Jean King cheered its announcement this week.
“I can’t wait to share everything we have in store,” Manuel tweeted. “There has never been a place for women that exist like this. It’s about damn time.”
Manuel has been busy making her own news in the water. She broke out at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, becoming the first Black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming with her victory in the 100-meter freestyle. She also earned silver in the 50m freestyle, silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay and gold in the 4×100 medley relay.
In 2019, she became the first American woman to sweep the 50 and 100 freestyles at the world championships.
She’s aiming to defend her 100 free title at the Tokyo Olympics, delayed for a year by the coronavirus pandemic. When Stanford closed its facilities last March, Manuel and training partner Katie Ledecky found a backyard pool to work out in.
The Houston-area native — who turns 25 years old on Aug. 2 — will compete in the 50m freestyle in Tokyo. On a team with a lot of first-time Olympians, Manuel will be a reliable veteran voice among the Americans.
Manuel has one chance for individual gold in Tokyo
Manuel was expected to have a full slate of relays in Tokyo as the American record-holder in the 100m freestyle, but she failed to make the 100m final at the U.S. Swim Trials in June. Afterward, she revealed that she had to miss three weeks of training in April due to overtraining syndrome, which can cause insomnia and depression.
Manuel rebounded to win the 50m freestyle on the last night of the trials with a time of 24.29 seconds, only 34 hundredths off her American record. She could still be added to relays.
“If you think about it, we’ve essentially been training for five years for the Olympics, so it takes a lot out of you and it takes a lot of mental strength to continue to push on through this period,” Manuel said Thursday in a virtual interview. “We’re all kind of going through the ebbs and flows of how to train for an extra year.”
Tokyo is Manuel’s return to national competition for the first time during the pandemic. She takes consolation in the fact that all the world’s athletes have been going through “this crazy time.”
“Obviously, we’ve been dealing with it for a year but this is not normal,” she said. “Just leaning on my teammates and leaning on my family and friends, and trying to make the best out of the situation. Sometimes when you go through obstacles, it’s you and you alone, but there’s kind of a sense of community.”
Manuel has used the unexpected time to do good in Northern California. She and a corporate partner teamed to give 1,000 laptops and free WiFi for three years to students at recreational facilities in Oakland.
As one of the few elite Black athletes in the predominantly White sport, Manuel is focused on helping swimming become more racially inclusive.
She’s been outspoken on Twitter about everything from social justice to the crisis in Texas involving major utility failures that left people without power, heat and running water. “We as a country need to do better to take care of everyone,” she posted.