Tears streamed down her face as she heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” because she knew her victory meant so much to so many.
“This medal is not just for me,” Manuel told reporters of her historic moment. “I hope I can be an inspiration to others, so this medal is for those who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find the love and drive to get to this point.”
Manuel, who is from Sugar Land, Texas, and swims for Stanford University, won another gold medal as part of the 4x100-meter medley relay team. She added two silvers, in the women’s 50-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter freestyle relay, to round out an outstanding performance at her first Olympics.
Before heading off to Rio de Janeiro, Manuel spoke with Sports Illustrated Kids at the U.S. Olympic Swim Team training camp in San Antonio, Texas.
I’m just super excited to represent my country. I’m just gonna try to have fun and swim as fast as I can.
What’s your favorite sport to watch at the Olympics besides your own event?
My favorite sports to watch are diving, track and field, and gymnastics. I don’t know if I’ll have time to go watch them, but we’ll see.
What would you tell kids who hope to make the Olympics one day about what it takes?
I’ll just tell kids, whenever you go to practice, just work hard, have fun, and do your best. Always shoot for the moon.
What would you tell kids about the experience of getting to the Olympics?
The whole experience is amazing. Just being on the team with people that I’ve looked up to for a long time and watched them swim and get Olympic gold medals. To be able to train with them and race with them and sit down and have conversations with them is amazing. Just being able to sit down and sign autographs for people who really think that you’re an inspiration to them is really humbling and I’m really grateful for this experience.
Photographs by (from top) Adam Pretty/Getty Images; Brian Yancelson