Simone Manuel: Five things you didn't know about the Rio 2016 Olympic champ

Did you know the USA swimming star can speak some Swahili? Read more about that and discover some other interesting facts about her here.
By Andrew Binner

Simone Manuel is from Sugar Land, Texas, and has quickly become one of the sweethearts of USA swimming.

After winning four medals on her Olympic debut at Rio 2016 - including gold in the blue-ribboned 100m freestyle - she is now one of the sport’s biggest names.

Also known as ‘Swimone’, Manuel is tipped to add to her medal count at the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. But she is so much more than a swimmer...

When she’s not entertaining teammates with renditions of Beyoncé or cooking up a storm, she works in the community helping eradicate the attitudes that almost made her quit the sport as a child.

Find out more on that below, as we look at five interesting facts about the aquatic ace.

1 - Strong sporting DNA

Manuel’s nickname in the US team is ‘fearless’ due to her competitiveness in the pool and her ability to produce her best times in the biggest meets.

The swimming star attributes a large part of her drive to her two older brothers, who both played basketball in college.

Ryan played at Southern Methodist, while Chris ran out for Oklahoma Christian. Her father, Marc also played to a high standard at Xavier University of Louisiana.

Manuel did try playing basketball before she found her way to swimming, but didn’t enjoy always being targeted as one of the taller players!

2 - She almost quit swimming

Manuel took her first swim lesson when she was four because her parents wanted all their children to be safe in the water.

But as she grew older she became a victim of racial stereotyping.

“I was a tall black girl with muscles, an athletic build. ‘You must play basketball’, people would say. Or ‘I bet you run track, right?’,” Simone Manuel to The Undefeated.

The Texas native was a talented ballet dancer and performed ‘Nutcracker’ annually, but decided to give up 10 years of lessons due to the resultant self-doubt.

In swimming, she was ignored at practices.

"I didn’t feel it was the sport for me, because I didn’t feel that I fitted in but also I knew that I was being treated differently because of the colour of my skin."

Fortunately the now 11-time world champion listened to her parents and coaches, and decided not to quit. She now uses her platform to share her story, inspire younger swimmers, and nurture more diversity in swimming.

3 - Learning Swahili at Stanford

Manuel is a woman of many talents, and also excelled out of the pool at Stanford University.

She majored in communications and was named First-Team Academic All-America with a 3.48 GPA.

What’s even more impressive is that she studied Swahili - a bantu language from Africa - as well as anthropology, and a physics class on nuclear energy.

"I'm really interested in marketing and advertising," she told ESPN. "Or maybe being a broadcast journalist or commentator. I don't know how I feel about commentating. Rowdy Gaines, who commentates, feels like I should try my hand at it."

While a freshman in 2015, Manuel spent eight months with chronic sinusitis - meaning her right nostril was completely blocked - and also suffered a stress fracture in her ribs. Six weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials, she had balloon sinuplasty nasal surgery.

She kept the surgery quiet as she thought it would look like an excuse if she performed poorly, before going on to make the team, and break the 100m freestyle national record en route to the Olympic gold!

4 - Getting into meditation

One of the key ingredients to Manuel’s success is her explosivity, so it may come as some surprise that she partly maintained her competitive edge during the COVID-19 lockdown by sitting still.

The reason? She has been working on her mental game.

"I've been able to kind of get into meditating, which is something that I hadn't done in the past,” the 100m freestyle Olympic champion told ESPN.

“I've been stretching 15 minutes every day, which is something that I never did. So I'm really just finding ways to better myself outside of the pool… when things hopefully get back to normal, I'll be ahead of the game.”

In order to maintain her touch in the water, she practised with former Stanford teammate and five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky in a private pool. Not a bad training partner at all!

5 - Singer, dancer, chef…

If she wasn’t a competitive swimmer or a broadcaster, Manuel often tells teammates she would be either a singer or dancer.

Music plays a large part in her swimming preparation too, with Beyoncé and gospel music her go-to genres for motivation.

While music helps get her amped, it’s cooking and baking that help her unwind after practice.