Simone Manuel Makes Third Olympic Team in Trials That Have ‘Been So Healing’

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As the ovation of 22,000 people became so thunderous it echoed through Lucas Oil Stadium, Simone Manuel was moved to tears.

After making her third Olympic team, she was reflecting on the difficult journey that she has traveled since even before making her second Olympic team three years ago.

“This sport has been a very lonely place for me. I think after Tokyo I felt even more alone. I didn’t feel as though I got the support that I would have hoped for or the grace in talking about my journey that I had hoped for,” Simone Manuel said. “But being in this arena and being surrounded by these fans honestly has been so healing. I remember the 200 free, I think maybe it was the 200 free semifinals, getting out and hearing the crowd cheer even louder. Just to know that these people are just excited to see me swim again, swim at this level again is something that’s really special, and I don’t take for granted.”

When she qualified for Tokyo, she described her battle with overtraining syndrome.

That battle did not end when she made the Tokyo team.

In many ways, it was just beginning.

“Anybody who really knows my journey really knows how hard it was to get back into the pool – to be cleared to get back into the pool – going to practice and getting my butt kicked every single day … until I got strong enough to complete a week of work. I basically started from ground zero,” Simone Manuel said. “To make arguably, the best Olympic team ever in swimming with what I went through – in 18 months of good work is something I can be proud of.

“When I think about how far I had to come and the mountain I had to climb, it is important for me to look back and be proud of myself for continuing to fight through this process and believe in myself.”

Manuel finished fourth in the 100 freestyle (52.35) to make the relay squad along with Kate Douglass (52.56), Torri Huske (52.93), Gretchen Walsh (53.13) and likely Abbey Weitzeil (53.70) as an alternate.

Manuel’s struggles both before and after Tokyo have made her reflect more on the sport and why she continues.

“I don’t think there ever was a time that I necessarily thought I was through. I think that I had to do a bit of soul searching after Tokyo to decide what I wanted the journey to look like. I definitely think that through the process there were times where I was like why am I doing this?” she said. “I think there was a lot of ebbs and flows in the journey, but I don’t think in my mind there ever was an option to quit. I don’t know, getting through trials in 2021 was a tough journey, so I felt like, in some way, I had some armor to be able to get through this one. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but like I said, I’m really proud of the process and the journey it took to get here.”

The move to train at Arizona State helped. She joined a coaching staff led by Bob Bowman that has helped veteran swimmers with all kinds of struggles – from Michael Phelps to Allison Schmitt to Hali Flickinger to Regan Smith – all who fought through struggles to win Olympic medals.

“I think he knows what it takes to bring an athlete from a tough spot back up to the top. I mean, he did it with Michael. He did it with Schmitty,” Manuel said. “I feel as though he’s helped a lot with myself, and I think he really understood what overtraining was and the effect that it had on my body and really had a comprehensive plan on how the progression of my training would look like.

“I think overall I wanted a coach that – there’s nothing in it for Bob. It’s just simply his care for me. He’s accomplished as much as he could in probably – I don’t know. I’m not describing this well, but he’s accomplished a lot in this sport as a coach. I think just having that support and that mentorship and him just telling me that he wanted me to focus on having fun in this process I think was something that was really important for me. So I think it really started obviously on the mental/emotional side, but I think physically, some of the things we talked about, I think he just knew what to do to hopefully get me back up to the top.”

The 100 free final was a good start.

Her U.S. teammates are thrilled Manuel will be around as a leader – and a fast part of the 400 free relay.

“I think she’s a great example to just put into perspective what you can go through in this sport. It’s very unforgiving,” Walsh said. “She’s a true inspiration to everyone on Team USA. I’m excited to have her as a role model out in Paris, and I’m just looking forward to experiencing my first Olympics with her third Olympics, and it should be one for the books for sure.”

Manuel broke into a huge smile when talking about Paris.

“I think Paris is going to be a blast. It’s a different spot than I’m used to right now with only being a relay swimmer, but it’s my third Olympic team. That’s something that’s really hard to accomplish,” Simone Manuel said. “I hope that I can be a leader to these women and men on the team to just be their very best, to fight for Team USA, to fight for themselves. It’s a different role, but it’s something that I’m really excited about. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun. So it’s not something I thought too much ahead on, but I think that it’s going to be a blast.”

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5 days ago

So happy for you, Simone…Paris Olympics, here she comes!

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