Until recently, the name Simone has always had a vaguely French connotation to us—echoes of Simone de Beauvoir, maybe?— but as of today it's a name that will forever be associated with strength, dominance, tenacity, grace and the other Olympic qualities on display as two amazing athletes from Houston—gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Simone Manuel—earned gold in Rio in spectacular fashion.
First there was Biles, from Spring, one of the most hyped athletes entering the Olympic Games. In a sport where youth is one of the biggest advantages, Biles was months shy of eligibility during the 2012 Olympics in London. She's been dominant in international competition ever since, undefeated in the all-around for three years, including winning the world championship an astonishing three consecutive times starting in 2013. And yet peaking before your Olympic moment is a real risk in gymnastics—look at Chellsie Memmel, a former world champ who suffered an injury weeks before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and Jordyn Wieber, who was dominant on the world stage in 2011 before being beat-out in the all-around qualifiers by teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.
With all the weight of expectations on her, Biles didn't just perform well, she calmly and casually dominated the field, roaring back from second place behind Russia's Aliya Mustafina with a flawless balance beam routine, and ending the night with a soaring floor routine, her specialty, that earned her the gymnastics all-around gold in decisive fashion, finishing over 2 points above Raisman, who took the silver. As NBC Sports noted, it's not just the biggest margin of victory ever in women's gymnastics, it's greater than the margins of victory from 1980 to 2012 combined.
If Biles' victory was sure-footed and expected, Simone Manuel's gold-medal-winning swim was a joyous surprise. Born in Houston and raised in Sugar Land, Manuel is an NCAA champion in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle for Stanford, but she wasn't particularly favored to medal in the 100-meter—or at least that was the impression given by the swimming commentators, who were focused on sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell of Australia potentially winning double medals.
Instead it was Manuel who surged in the final length and shaved nearly a half-second off her semi-final swim to tie Canadian Penny Oleksiak for the gold with an Olympic Record time of 52.70 seconds. It's the first gold for the US in the event since 1984 and the first time an African American woman has won individual gold in swimming. Manuel's reaction to her win will also go down as one of the all-time great reaction faces in sports.
With tears streaming down her face after the race, Manuel name-checked swimmers Cullen Jones and Maritza Correia as black swimmers who inspired her and paved the way for her success.
We look forward to the Houston kindergarten class of 2021, which we expect to be full of a new crop of little Simones ready to take on the world.