The women’s 100-meter freestyle race at the Rio Games started immediately after Michael Phelps won his fourth gold medal of the Rio Games Thursday night. Simone Manuel made sure Phelps didn’t overshadow her.
Manuel, the 20-year-old sprinter, became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event, tying 16-year-old Canadian phenom Penny Oleksiak in the 100 freestyle as both touched the wall in an Olympic-record 52.70. Manuel’s stunning performance came in a race in which the United States wasn’t favored to add another medal to its Olympics-leading count of 24, 11 of which are now gold.
An American hadn’t won gold in the event since 1984, when Nancy Hogshead and Carrie Steinseifer also tied and shared the gold medal with a time of 55.92 seconds.
“My first gold medal, at my first Olympics, is kind of a surprise to me,” Manuel said. “I never thought I would be in this position, but I’m so blessed and honored to be on the medal stand. All my hard work has paid off and I am really happy about it.”
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom took the bronze. Australia’s Cate Campbell finished out of the medals after setting the previous Olympic record of 52.71 earlier in the Rio Games. American Abbey Weitzeil, whose relay leg was faster than Ledecky’s in the 4×100, finished seventh.
Manuel’s gold came on the heels of a silver medal in the Katie Ledecky-anchored 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Manuel swam the slowest time in the relay, casting questions on her ability to compete with the world’s elite sprinters. She answered those questions on Thursday.
Manuel was third at the turn while Oleksiak was seventh. Both closed hard in a thrilling finish to share the gold.
“This is amazing, to tie for a gold,” Oleksiak said. “I never thought I’d win a gold. She [Manuel] deserves it as much as me.”