Olympic homecoming: Sugar Land to welcome home Olympians

Living a dream – Simon Manuel at age 20 wearing her own four Olympic medals.

Living a dream – Simon Manuel at age 20 wearing her own four Olympic medals.

The City of Sugar Land will host a Welcome Home Celebration for Simone Manuel and Steven López on Aug. 25, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Sugar Land Town Square.

The two Olympians recently competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Manuel won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley and silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

Although he didn’t medal in Rio, López is a two-time gold medal winner and competed in his fifth Olympics. He is also the winner of five world championships and holds the distinction of the most decorated athlete in taekwondo history.

The community-wide celebration will showcase the city’s pride and appreciation of the hard work and dedication displayed while competing on a world-wide stage. The city is working with Fort Bend ISD, First Colony Swim Team coaches and swimmers, the López family and other community groups and individuals to welcome back the Olympians.

The event will include a short ceremony, photos, community booths and activities along with meet and greet areas for both athletes with autograph signings available.

When Manuel returned to Houston from Rio last week, she received a spirited Bulldog welcome from her Austin High School (AHS) family.

Proud mother, Sharron Manuel, shows a photo of her daughter, Simone.

Proud mother, Sharron Manuel, shows a photo of her daughter, Simone.

The 2014 AHS graduate was surprised to see members of the AHS Bulldog drumline and Angels Dance Team join her family, city officials and community members in greeting her as she arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“We were honored to be there to support Simone,” said Mary Ellen Eidson, principal at Austin High School. “Once a Bulldog always a Bulldog and this was one moment that we all wanted to experience with her.”

Prior to her return home, Fort Bend ISD’s communications team had an opportunity to speak with Sharron Manuel about her daughter’s journey to the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Mrs. Manuel began with a brief explanation of what helped form her daughter’s competitive spirit.

At age nine, Manuel had an opportunity to meet 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist Erik Vendt during a swim clinic. While she was eager to receive Vendt’s expert advice on various swim techniques and stroke mechanics, she was also impressed with the silver medal he had won. At one point during the swim clinic, Manuel actually tried the medal on for size. Little did she know, that very moment was a preview of things to come.

Competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Manuel earned four Olympic medals of her own. The 20-year-old swimmer received two gold medals (in the 100-meter freestyle and the 400-meter medley relays) and two silver medals (in the 50-meter freestyle and the 400-meter freestyle relays). She also made history as the first African-American female swimmer to ever win an Olympic gold in an individual swimming event.

A preview of what’s to come Simone at age 9 wearing a silver medal awarded to swimmer Erik Vendt during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

A preview of what’s to come Simone at age 9 wearing a silver medal awarded to swimmer Erik Vendt during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

“We are so excited for Simone,” said her mother. “This is something that she has worked hard to achieve for such a long time. It’s really awesome to see that she’s lived out her dream.”

Manuel’s family noticed early on that she had a natural feel for the water.

“My husband, Marc, and I made sure that all three of our kids were good swimmers. Simone stood out and was more competitive than most children,” Mrs. Manuel said.

During her youth, Manuel swam for the First Colony Swim Team and competed on a national level.

“Simone started to compete on a national level in high school,” said her mother. “Fort Bend ISD was very supportive of her, especially the administration at Austin High School. They understood what Simone needed to do in order to stay connected at school as well as compete for Team USA.”

Simone Manuel received a Bulldog welcome from Austin High School Angels dance team and drumline.

Simone Manuel received a Bulldog welcome from Austin High School Angels dance team and drumline.

The Austin High School family has continued to support Manuel, as evident by their recent homecoming surprise for the Olympic gold medalist.

“This experience will, by far, be one of the greatest memories for our family,” said Sharron Manuel. “Nothing has ever come close to what we’re feeling right now.”

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