The U.S. swim team had a dominant day in the pool on Saturday, July 24 at the Tokyo Olympics, coming away with six medals. One of those medals came courtesy of the women’s 4×100 relay team.
The quartet of Simone Manuel, Natalie Hinds, Erika Brown, and Abbey Weitzeil wrapped up a third-place finish in the freestyle race. So what’s the big deal about a third-place finish? Well, the optics of seeing two Black women together representing the United States in a sport that rarely see Black faces, makes the achievement a big deal.
Manuel was happy to be back in the pool doing what she does best: swim fast.
“I’m always excited and pumped for relays,” Manuel said. “It’s always different when you go behind the blocks and there is three other people there right with you instead of just going up there alone or having a teammate a couple lanes over or the lane next to you.
“It’s an experience that is amazing,” Manuel continued. “I don’t take it lightly, and so, just to be put on a relay, I knew that I wanted to put my best foot forward. These three women had great splits and had great races and I knew that when I dove in, I had to give it everything I had and that’s exactly what I did.”
For Manuel, this was almost a victory lap of sorts. The first Black woman to win an individual gold medal (2016) in swimming in the history of the United States, Manuel didn’t make the cut to be on the U.S. Olympic team in the 100 meters, the same race in which she made history five years ago.
Manuel managed to earn a spot on the American roster by winning the 50 freestyle race at the U.S. Swimming Trials, thus getting an opportunity to land a spot on the short relay. Manuel see making the team again as her redemption story.
“After Trials, it was really difficult not making it in the individual 100 freestyle, but I’m grateful to be on this (relay) team and to end up making it in the 50 freestyle, and so I took some time to acknowledge my emotions and get back to work,” said Manuel.
“During the training process, I still did some 100 work just to kind of take some break from 50 work just to keep training interesting. I saw improvements, I think the coaching staff saw improvements over the weeks, and after last night, I was told I was going to be on the relay. I’m happy to be with these three women.”
The Americans, while finishing up the race behind Australia and Canada, came close to winning the silver, just getting edged out of the spot by our brethren across the northern border. Team USA (3:32.81) nearly eclipsed Canada (3:32.78) for second place, but nonetheless a securing a medal is a whole lot better than coming in fourth place and beyond.
When you talk about poetic justice, Natalie Hinds, who actually made the U.S. team in the 100 freestyle, is actually in position to possibly duplicate Manuel’s accomplishment in the race. Like Manuel, Hinds is from Texas. Manuel hails from Sugar Land, Texas. Hinds calls Midland home.
With Manuel and Hinds on the same relay team, the U.S. can brag about having the third-best 4×100 relay team in the world.
“We’ve been preparing for this since we came to camp to get ready for this meet, and I think we’re all aware of how well we can do, and we’re really invested even if people aren’t doing our events,” Hinds said.
“So to see people go on the podium and go on the podium, I think it really trickles down — in the warm-up pool and everything, everyone has that energy and it just keeps rolling through, so by the time we were about to walk out, we were like, ‘we are about to make this podium,’ so it was really cool.”