American athletes were in the mood to make history yesterday at the Olympics.
Last night, Simone Biles affirmed all of our beliefs that she is the best gymnast in the world. Biles won the gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics, and teammate Aly Raisman snagged the silver medal. The victory felt extra special for Raisman, who came fourth at the 2012 Olympics.
Biles’ record-breaking talent spans beyond the Rio gymnasium. No other gymnast has won more than two world championships in a row. Biles has won three. Her name floats around with some of the other greatest Olympic athletes, namely Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. According to Sporting News, however, she said, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”
Off the mat and into the pool, another Simone also made history. 20-year-old Simone Manuel tied with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak for the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. Sure, she and Oleksiak broke the Olympic record, but Manuel is the the first African American woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event. After winning, Manuel spoke about the significance of her win:
I tried to take the weight of the black community off my shoulders; it’s something I carry with me being in this position. This medal is not just for me but for the African-Americans who came before me…and for the people who come behind me. I would like one day for there to be more of us, so that it’s not Simone the black swimmer because the title of black swimmer makes it seem like I’m not supposed to be able to win a gold medal, or not supposed to break records. That’s not true. I work just as hard as everybody else and I want to win just like everybody else.
Manuel also spoke with TIME before the Olympics about the influence she might have in Rio. She said, “I’m hoping what I can do in Rio is give some people hope that even though there are some tough things going on in the world, you just have to keep fighting.”
Kayla Harrison, a judo fighter, also made history last night at the Olympics. Harrison won the 78-kilogram division and defended her 2012 title after defeating France’s Audrey Tcheumeo. She became the first American woman to win two gold medals in the sport. The Washington Post reports that Harrison announced her retirement right after winning the gold: “My judo legacy is fulfilled, and I’m happy,” Harrison said. “I’m happy with my career. Now it’s time to go and continue to add to the legacy off the mat and try and change the world.”
Harrison’s strength however, exists far beyond the mat. The Post explains that Harrison had been sexually abused by her family friend and coach, Daniel Doyle, starting when she was just 13 and it continued for three years. The Post reports that he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Her current coach, Jimmy Pedro, helped Harrison find passion for the sport after Doyle went to prison and Harrison threatened suicide. She recovered and now has two gold medals to show for it. Harrison even created her own organization, the Fearless Foundation, which helps survivors of sexual abuse through sports and education. “I want young boys and girls all over the world to feel fearless and to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and to know there is a shiny gold medal,” she said.