Simon Manuel received a Texas-sized homecoming celebration
Swimmer Simone Manuel was surprised when she took the gold in the 100-meter freestyle event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio last Thursday. But that was nothing compared to the shock on her face when returned home to Houston.
Exiting the gate at 5:25 a.m. after her overnight flight from Rio, Manuel was met with a hero’s welcome of cheering fans and family at George Bush Intercontinental Airport – all decked in their red, white and blue.
“I didn’t expect that,” Manuel said about the homecoming celebration in video from the Associated Press. “But I appreciate all the love and support. It means a lot to me.”
“It really keeps me going when I’m swimming,” she explained, of the kind words.
The 20-year-old took home four medals in Rio – her 100-meter freestyle gold, gold in the 400-meter medley relay and two silvers in the 50-meter and 400-meter freestyle relays.
She’s the first African-American woman in history to ever win gold in swimming.
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“It’s a little overwhelming,” she told the Madd Hatta Morning Show crew at Houston radio station 97.9 The Box in a phone interview from the airport. “But I have a lot of support so I can’t complain about that.”
Hugging fans and posed for pictures at the airport terminal, Manuel was cheered on by the dance team and marching band from Austin High School – from which she graduated in 2014 – Houston Chronicle reports. Staffers from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority were there too, waving miniature American flags.
Houston Vice Mayor pro tem Jerry Davis and his 9-year-old twin daughters were also in attendance – holding handmade signs that read “Welcome home Simone.”
In video posted by The Chronicle, Manuel told reporters she was “humbled” by the fact that so many found her an inspiration and hoped her win would inspire others to jump in the pool. “Hopefully others will see themselves in me,” she said.
“She’s just a normal kid who had a dream and worked really hard to make that dream come true,” her mom, Sharron Manuel said.
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Wearing her blue Team U.S.A. hoodie and black-rimmed glasses, she confessed she was happy to be back in Texas – the first time she’s been back home since Christmas. Manuel said she was looking forward to her mother’s home-cooking and a doughnut from local shop Shipley Do-Nuts.
She got the doughnut first, tweeting a pic of the treat a few hours later.
While Biles will be returning to Stanford University in September, she told reporters in The Chronicle‘s video that she hadn’t “soaked it all in.”
She’s also said she’s not sure where she’ll keep her four medals.
One thing’s for sure though: Manuel’s looking forward to getting back in the pool. “I already miss my teammates,” she tweeted late Wednesday night.