In 2012, Lia Neal, an African-American and Chinese-American woman, became the second Black woman to qualify for an Olympic swimming team — and now she, and a fellow swimmer, are making history again.

Neal — who won the Bronze medal in the 2012 games — qualified for the Olympic swim team on July 3 alongside her Stanford teammate, Simone Manuel

When the two swimmers head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August, they'll be the first pair of Black female swimmers to compete simultaneously.

The two groundbreaking swimmers will compete on the 4x100 freestyle team, according to Essence Magazine.


Both water goddesses reacted to the news on Twitter, making sure to thank those who helped them achieve this historic feat.

Manuel also told NBC Sports that she's eager to compete with swimmers from around the globe. "Just making the team in itself is a great accomplishment," she said. "Just getting to Rio, all the nerves will be gone and I think I'll be able to swim a little bit faster."

While the upcoming Olympics are full of Black girl magic with Gabrielle Douglas, Simone Biles, and Allyson Felix competing, this achievement matters a great deal to Black Americans because of our torturous relationship with swimming.

A 2008 USA Swimming study found that 58% of Black children can't swim. Moreover, 70% of African-American children have low swimming abilities. This alarming statistic has a direct connection to history, since there was a time when Black Americans weren't allowed to enter or swim in neighborhood pools.

Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana, told National Public Radio (NPR) that swimming has always had a contested racial history that dates back to the opening of segregated public swimming facilities. 

As Wiltse explained, pools sprang up in poor, immigrant, and working-class white neighborhoods throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. Yet, pools weren't opened in predominantly Black American neighborhoods. 

This wave of new pools continued through the 1920s and 1930s, but became more and more racially-segregated, as Black Americans who could access pools were relegated to smaller, indoor pools that were uncomfortable for those who used them.

"There has always been fear, in terms of using swimming pools, about being exposed to the dirt and the disease of other swimmers," Wiltse, who wrote "Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America," told NPR in a subsequent 2015 interview. "And back during the 1920s and 1930s, and ... continuing on even further up from there, there were racist assumptions that Black Americans were dirtier than whites, that they were more likely to be infected by communicable diseases."

As the Civil Rights Movement amped up, so too did the fight to integrate pools.

While the NAACP's campaign to integrate pools effectively did so, their success also had a ricochet effect: Whites abandoned public pools in favor of private and residential swimming areas.

Yoni Appelbaum, a writer at The Atlantic, explored this history in June 2015, after a police officer assaulted a teenage Black girl at a pool party in McKinney, Texas. She found that most Americans went to swimming pools as much as movies before 1950, but over time, private in-ground pools allowed segregation to exist.

So, while African-Americans were now allowed at pools, whites fled from them — and took resources with them. Thus, pools decayed and became inaccessible for Black folks. How can Black Americans learn to swim when there are few places that offered regular access to pools?

So, while Neal and Manuel's victory is theirs, it also breeds collective celebration and joy. We can finally swim at the pool — and compete in Olympic waters too.

Watch these killer swimmers break down their victories:

Main Image: Twitter/Unapologetically Us