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Gold medalist Simone Manuel fails to advance in U.S. Olympic swim trials

·3 min read
United States' Simone Manuel reacts after winning the women's 50m freestyle final at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Sunday, July 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Simone Manuel reacts after winning the women's 50-meter freestyle final at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea on July 28, 2019. (Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

Simone Manuel, the first female Black swimmer to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, won't have the opportunity to defend the victory at the Tokyo Games.

Manuel failed to advance to the finals of the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials Thursday, sending ripples of shock through the CHI Health Center.

The 24-year-old finished ninth in the semifinals in 54.17 seconds. That time was more than two seconds slower than the American record Manuel set in 2019.

“I know I did everything I possibly could to be here,” Manuel said during a raw, tearful news conference. “That makes me proud. I stayed strong through this process even though I wanted to give up.”

The finish is the most surprising moment so far during the eight-day trials that conclude Sunday.

Manuel is one of U.S. swimming’s brightest stars — an enormous picture of her is on the outside of the arena alongside Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel. While the historic victory at the Rio Olympics in 2016 thrust Manuel onto the world stage, she continued to improve, winning back-to-back world titles in the 100 freestyle in 2017 and 2019. Manuel totaled seven medals at the world championships in 2019, the most ever by a female swimmer.

But during the news conference, Manuel revealed she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier this year. That led to taking three weeks away from the pool in March and April.

“My body wasn’t doing what I knew it was capable of,” Manuel said. “I had moments where I didn’t even want to go to the pool because I knew it was going to be bad.”

Manuel said she first noticed problems in January. They progressed to the point where her “body completely crashed.” She described experiencing an elevated heart rate while resting, anxiety, depression, insomnia, sore muscles from simple tasks like walking up stairs and workouts she once breezed through becoming insurmountably difficult.

She managed to keep the struggles from public view and, once she returned to the pool, still found a way to remain competitive. At the Longhorn Elite Classic in May, Manuel clocked a 53.82 in the 100 freestyle, second to Ledecky.

The same speed wasn’t present Thursday. For Manuel, simply being to able compete was a victory.

“This was the first time I showed up for a meet and before I even dove in I was proud of myself,” she said. “That was a big step. I hope it inspires more athletes to feel that way.”

Natalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga tied for the fastest semifinal time in the 100 freestyle at 53.55 seconds. Manuel’s mark was two-hundredths of a second behind the eighth-place finisher. The top eight swimmers advance to the finals.

Manuel still has the 50 freestyle remaining at the trials and isn’t backing away from that challenge.

“Maybe it didn’t happen today, but this isn’t the last time you’re going to see me,” Manuel said. “This isn’t the last time I’m doing to do something great in the pool.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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