In a time of year when college basketball usually takes center stage, college swimming made national headlines exactly eight years ago.
The 2015 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships produced numerous record-breaking performances all competition, but none was more memorable than the 100-yard freestyle on the final day of the meet.
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Freshman phenom Simone Manuel was heavily favored to win the event. She won the 50-yard freestyle earlier in the competition and was the fastest in the nation heading into NCAAs in the longer sprint. Manuel went on to win the event by over a second, breaking the NCAA record in the process, but it was what happened behind her that grabbed the headlines.
Her Stanford teammate Lia Neal finished second for a 1-2 punch for the Cardinal, and Natalie Hinds from Florida finished third. With Neal and Hinds accompanying Manuel in the top three, the trio made history as members of the first-ever all-Black podium in NCAA swimming history.
The feat brought swimming a rare spotlight outside of the Olympics. “My jaw dropped and a tear instantly came to my eyes, I couldn’t believe it,” Maritza McClendon, the first African American female swimmer to make a US Olympic Team and first African American to win an Olympic medal, said of the historic feat. “This is a true moment in history for minorities.”
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Since 2015, all three women have gone on to have inspiring careers in the pool. A year later, Manuel became the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal.
Already an Olympic medalist from 2012, Neal won another silver medal in the 400 meter freestyle relay at the Rio 2016 games. Hinds joined the Cardinal alumni duo as an Olympic medalist as part of Team USAs 400 meter freestyle relay that won bronze in Tokyo.
More importantly, sharing that moment at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in North Carolina showed young Black female swimmers that it is possible to succeed in the sport that has historically excluded them.
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Image Credit: Tim Binning/TheSwimPictures.com
* Originally published on March 21, 2023, by Jesse Marsh