American Simone Manuel wins 50-meter freestyle to secure spot on Tokyo Olympics squad
OMAHA, Neb. – When Simone Manuel turned to see the “1” next to her name, months of emotions erupted.
She closed her eyes, folded her hands in prayer, and struggled to hold back her tears.
Abbey Weitzeil, the woman Manuel had just beaten, jumped over the lane rope with a huge smile – so happy for her friend that she didn’t hesitate to settle for second in the chaotic 50-meter swim free Sunday in the US. Olympic swimming trials.
Everyone in the stands jumped to their feet, saluting Manuel’s persistence with a standing ovation that rocked the arena in downtown Omaha.
Days after revealing she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, Manuel delivered the most emotional moment of all American trials on her final night by winning the chaotic 50-meter freestyle.
“When I hit the wall, I was literally like, ‘Please, my God, please!’” She said.
It was all or nothing for Manuel, whose Olympic hopes came down to a frantic race from one end of the pool to the other.
She got there first, securing a trip to Tokyo and the chance to make history – five years after becoming the first black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming.
“More than anything, I am relieved,” she said. “Today may have been the longest day of my life and the 50 longest of my life.”
As Manuel returns to the Olympics, Nathan Adrian’s bid for a fourth Summer Games came close to failing when he finished third in the men’s 50 freestyle.
Caeleb Dressel tied his American record with another dominant performance, hitting about a half-body length ahead of Michael Andrew in 21.04 seconds.
Prepare yourself, Tokyo. Dressel will have three individual races at the Olympics, not to mention at least three relays.
Lots of chances to live up to the hype as the next big star in men’s swimming in the United States after Michael Phelps retires.
“It’s brutal, the pressure. I like it,” Dressel said. “I’m glad we performed well and in a month we can have some more fun.”
Andrew won his third individual event at the Olympics touching second in 21.48, while Adrian was next in 21.73.
Dressel jumped on the corridor rope and splashed the water, while a graceful Adrian came to congratulate the winner.
Adrian, 32, overcame testicular cancer and came to Omaha as a new father. He was hoping to cap the tumultuous run with a fourth Olympic Games, but the eight-time medalist failed to advance to the 100 freestyle final, nor was he quick enough on one lap.
He couldn’t wait to rock his 4 month old daughter Parker.
“My heart explodes just thinking about it,” Adrian said. “I’m so excited to go hang out with her and hold her in my arms. I have a lot to look forward to when I get home.”
Bobby Finke won the final round of practice, taking the victory in the 1,500 freestyle in 14 minutes and 46.06 seconds. He was about a half-turn ahead of runner-up Michael Brinegar, who touched in 15: 00.87 and is also bound for Tokyo.
Finke doubled his Olympic racing schedule after winning the 800 freestyle, posting a career best and the fourth fastest time in the world this year in the 1500.
“This weather means a lot,” he said. “I’ve been waiting to lose this race for a few years now. I’m going to go to Tokyo and try to improve my time.”
But tonight was all about Manuel.
Her dreams were apparently shattered when she failed to even qualify for the 100 freestyle final, the event she won in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
After this disappointing performance, she spoke of the difficulties she went through. With her body sore, Manuel was diagnosed in March with the condition commonly known as burnout, causing her to take a three week break from training.
The layoff came at the worst possible time as the Olympic Trials quickly approach, and Manuel was clearly not at his best in his first event of the week.
In the end, talking about her condition – and receiving so much support and encouragement from teammates, fans, and people she’s never met – seemed like the best balm.
“I really think sharing this information has made me swim more freely,” said Manuel. “I have a lot of hard work in the bank.”
It paid off when Manuel furiously covered the length of the pool in 24.29 to beat Weitzeil by a hundredth of a second.
Weitzeil had already secured his place in the squad with a victory in the 100 freestyle, and second place ensured him to swim the 50 in Tokyo as well.
No one in the arena was pulling harder for Manuel than the woman swimming in the hallway right next to her.
“I told him before I went out, ‘We’re dating,'” Weitzeil said. “During the race, I saw her right there. I thought, ‘Yes! Let’s go! Go!’ That’s what I thought all the time. “
Manuel is looking forward to participating in other Olympics. She won’t have the chance to defend her groundbreaking title from Rio, but she has no complaints after the last few months.
“Even though I didn’t do it in the 100m, my goal was to join the team,” he said. “I’m going to have to regroup and hopefully swim faster so that I can win a medal for Team USA.
“I’m glad I can go with my head held high.”