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Former Shorewood seven-time WIAA state swim champion Kristin Malone couldn't help herself.

She was watching the astounding performance by the American swim team at the Olympics last week and had just observed Simone Manuel make history in the 100-meter freestyle. Manuel had tied Canada's Penny Oleksiak for the gold medal in the event with an American and Olympic record. It was first time an American had won the event since 1984.

Manuel's reaction after touching the wall was priceless. First she looked left, then right and then her eyes opened wide, and she slapped her hand over her mouth in disbelief.

In winning her gold, Manuel made history in another way, a somewhat more profound way, in becoming the first African-American woman to claim a gold medal in swimming.

But that's not what drew a reaction from Malone, herself an African-American, who is now attending school and competing for Texas A & M.

That came later, after the gold medal ceremony. The NBC camera panned Manuel coming into the American team room, and as she took one step and then another, her face started to open up and she started crying in joy as one teammate and coach after another came up to join her in one big happy, soggy hug of tears and congratulations.

That's when Malone lost it.

"I definitely shed a few tears at that moment," Malone said. "When she started crying, I did too. It was just so cool to watch all that."

Manuel did indeed score a breakthrough for African-American women, winning a total of four medals in Rio with another gold in the 4x100 medley relay and silvers in the 50-free and the 4x100 free relay.

Her tears were well-earned.

Because Malone and former fellow Shorewood state champion swimmer Rachel Munson know the lane Manuel has swam in. In later interviews, Manuel said that she hopes that at some in the near future, she can be referred to as just an "American" swimmer, not an "African-American" swimmer.

But for now, it is still a comparatively rare designation because it is is estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics do not swim or have a fear of the water, making swimming a comparatively lily-white sport.

Which made Malone and Munson anomalies about a decade ago when they joined the Shorewood Swim Club.

Malone, a 2014 graduate of Shorewood, is one year older than Munson, who swims at Minnesota. She said she never thought a lot about their rare status as often the only young women of color at practices and meets.

"I just grew up with the sport; I grew up swimming," she said. "It was nice having her (Munson) around to go through the same challenges, but I never really thought that either one of us was treated any differently than anyone else. I always thought we were treated with respect."

They earned that respect with one major success after another, as along with Malone's seven state titles, Munson claimed six. Both also set D2 state records at the time and helped the Greyhounds earn the 2012 WIAA D2 state team title. Malone still owns the D2 state 200 free record, while Munson still has the D2 200 IM and 100 breaststroke marks

That the two came along and broke ground at Shorewood at virtually the same time impressed former longtime Shorewood High School and club coach Rob McCabe, who got to know the pair when they were around nine or 10 years old.

"It's always great when other cultures, come into the swim community and succeed," he said. "They helped keep our traditions alive."

While establishing some of their own.

"I hope we were able to serve as role models for other (African-American) kids," Malone said. "It's nice to see some younger African-American kids running around the deck (at Shorewood and other pools) now. They seem to know who we are. Hopefully we're paving the way for others."

Malone, who made the semifinals of the 200 individual medley in the Olympic swim trials earlier this summer, is an acquaintance of Manuel's and was impressed with how the new champion handled things after all her success.

Manuel was asked many questions about race and about the current heightened state of racial tension in this country (which as we all know has unfortunately extended itself into the Milwaukee area in tragic ways these last 18 months), and she handled herself with dignity and honesty.

Malone, like Manuel, would like to see a day where such success is just seen as an "American" success without any racial classification attached to it.

"I think she handled it very well," Malone said. "This is just huge for the entire African-American community. I'm just so happy for her.

"Like everyone else, I was just shocked. She wasn't expected to win it (the 100 free), and she was surprised as anyone else.

"Amazing."

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