U.S. competitors won the most medals of any country in the Rio Olympics, and Texas athletes helped make that happen. Houston can lay claim to two of the most beloved Olympians this year — Simone Biles and Simone Manuel.
Athletes with ties to the Lone Star state claimed more overall medals than dozens of countries that sent athletes to Rio. Texans even brought home a lot more gold than the host country of Brazil earned.
Leading the way is gymnast Simone Biles. After her first Olympics the 19-year-old comes home with four gold medals and a bronze. Her Olympic feat eclipses that of University of Houston track legend Carl Lewis. Lewis won four gold medals at the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles.
Jay Black works at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco.
“She obviously, after her outstanding performance in Rio, would go to the top of the list. When you think about her joining the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, I think it’s more a matter of when than if,” says Black.
Biles continues a trend of successful gymnasts with ties to Houston. Since Bela Karolyi defected from Romania in 1981, he and his wife Marta have trained multiple gold medal winners at their ranch in New Waverly, TX.
Simone Manuel is the Sugar Land swimmer that is breaking barriers in the pool. Like Biles, Manuel came home after making Olympic history. When she won the 100-meter freestyle she became the first African-American women to win an individual gold medal in swimming. The 20-year-old was aware of her significance as an African-American swimmer before she was a teenager.
“Around the age twelve was when I came home from practice and asked my mom like, ‘Why aren’t there many people like me in the pool?’ And from then on I was like this is what to do even though there aren’t many people like me doing it,” Manuel told News 88.7 before leaving for Rio.
“I know that I am an inspiration to others and they feel that, ‘Hey if Simone is doing that, maybe I can swim and be that successful one day.’ So I do know the load, that my skin color does bring more awareness to the fact that not many minorities even know how to swim,” she said.
Manuel finished with two gold medals and two silver medals.
Billy Hawkins is a professor at the University of Houston specializing in the culture of sports. He believes Manuel’s achievements will inspire more women of color.
“This type of visibility will only add to the number of black women that are participating in swimming,” says Professor Hawkins.
Considering these two Olympians are both under 21 years of age, there’s a strong possibility that the 2020 games in Tokyo could bring even more gold to the state.