In 2012, Lia Neal, an African-American and Chinese-American woman, became the second Black woman to qualify for an Olympic swimming team — and now she, and her friend/fellow swimmer, are making history again.
Neal — who won the Bronze medal in the 2012 games — qualified for the Olympic swim team on July 3 alongside her Stanford teammate, Simone Manuel.
When the two swimmers head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August, they’ll be the first pair of Black female swimmers to compete simultaneously.
The pair, both good friends, landed a spot on the 4 x 100 freestyle team. Madame Noire notes that both women have previously made history, as Neal won a bronze medal in the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics in London. And in 2015, Neal and Manuel were two of three Black people to place in the top three spots for the 100-yard freestyle during the Women’s NCAA swimming championships. Manuel came in first, Neal came in second and swimmer Natalie Hinds came in third.
Both athletes reacted to the news on Twitter, making sure to thank those who helped them achieve this historic feat.
Lia tweeted, “I’m a two-time Olympian and I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, coaches, and friends. I am thankful beyond words. ”
Manuel also told NBC Sports that she’s eager to compete with swimmers from around the globe. “Just making the team in itself is a great accomplishment,” she said. “Just getting to Rio, all the nerves will be gone and I think I’ll be able to swim a little bit faster.”
Even though these two are making history, there is still a long way to go with African Americans and swimming.
A 2008 USA Swimming study found that 58% of Black children can’t swim. Moreover, 70% of African-American children have low swimming abilities. This alarming statistic has a direct connection to history, since there was a time when Black Americans weren’t allowed to enter or swim in neighborhood pools.
In the early 19th and 20th centuries, pools sprang up in poor, immigrant, and working-class white neighborhoods. Yet, pools weren’t opened in predominantly Black American neighborhoods.
But thank God for a change in history!
Don’t forget to add these two incredible, history-making, young women to the list of Olympians you’ll be cheering on this summer.
We see you!
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