Simone Manuel on TYR Pro Swim Series Fort Lauderdale: ‘A Step in the Right Direction’

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Simone Manuel stood in her traditional place, among the finalists of the 50 freestyle in an elite meet.

It was a familiar sight, but one that really hasn’t happened at that level since The Tokyo Olympics – 18 months ago.

She didn’t win, and wasn’t particularly close to winning in any of her events at the 2023 TYR Pro Swim Series Fort Lauderdale stop during the weekend, but it was a huge step for the Olympic gold medalist.

“I feel good about it. It is a step in the right direction. It has really only been my second meet after taking 18 months away from competition,” Simone Manuel said. “It is a different experience to come to these meets and know I am not going to have the possibility of winning. I didn’t really know what to expect, but for me it is about putting one foot in front of the other and being able to see some progress. It is my first time in a while, racing three days prelims-finals. It is fun to be back out here.”

Manuel finished sixth in the 100 freestyle (54.55). She won the C final in the 200 freestyle (2:01.26), finished 10th in the 50 butterfly (27.16) and closed the meet with a fifth-place finish (25.18) in a stacked 50 free.

Manuel won the gold medal in the 100 free in Rio in 2016, did not qualify for the event for Tokyo. She revealed at the Olympic Trials that she was battling Overtraining Syndrome, something that had taken a huge toll on her physically and mentally.

The American record-holder in the 100 free (52.04) and 50 free (23.97), went on to make the team in the 50 freestyle, but then had to change everything after the games.

“When I got back from Tokyo and I wasn’t allowed to be cleared until January. It was a long diagnosis with the break I had to take, not just from the pool, but no physical activity. It was hard to be away from swimming, when it is where I find peace, even with the difficult time I had at the Olympics,” Manuel said. “I had to find other outlets. It was all dependent on my family and friends. that helped me reset.”

It also gave Manuel plenty of time to think about what she wanted her future to be, both in and out of the pool. And there were plenty of options.

“I don’t think there was a point where I wasn’t going to come back. But I also knew I didn’t need to come back. I had to figure out what I wanted my swimming career to be,” Simone Manuel said. “And I had to grieve the experience that I had leading to Tokyo. I am still working on it. It is a hard process. But it is really nice to put everything in perspective. The doctor thought it was the best way to reset my body because it was in such a bad state. It was in survival mode.

“I spent a lot of time on Candy Crush. I spent time with family and friends. We tried new restaurants. I just tried to relax.”

Manuel made the decision to work toward coming back to swimming’s elite level. She moved her training to Arizona State with Bob Bowman, who helped her ease back into things.

“If I move forward, how am I going to do this in the happiest and healthiest way?” Simone Manuel said. “When I made the decision to go to ASU, Bob had a plan to have me do three practices a week and lifting three times a week. I only did one form of exercise a day. It was about small incremental increases in my training. I started up to three doubles (a week) last week.”


Simone Manuel. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

A lot of starting from scratch and rebuilding, something that takes time and patience.

“This journey can be really frustrating to start back on the bottom and try to move your way up, especially when USA Swimming is so competitive. It is an uphill battle,” she said. “The encouragement from my teammates has been spectacular. They understand my process and continue to uplift me through it.”

Watching Manuel battle back day-by-day is something that inspires her ASU pro teammates.

“It is huge. It is a testament to the work she is doing. When your teammate succeeds you know you can too,” Olivia Smoliga said. “To see her smiling and having success here is just dope because she is my training partner. I am happy to be doing it with her.”

Manuel said it is about keeping things simple, though at times that is much easier said than done.

“It has been focusing on progress. My phrase for the year is progress over perfection. I am a perfectionist but it is about managing my recovery better and being happy and having fun with it,” Simone Manuel said. “It is a different perspective.”

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