OMAHA, Neb. – Simone Manuel, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 freestyle who failed to qualify for the final in that event Thursday night at the 2021 U.S. Olympic trials, revealed she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome in March and spent three weeks out of the pool two months before the trials.
“It was kind of one of those bittersweet moments where my body wasn’t doing what I knew it was capable of,” said Manuel, 24, the only Black female swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal and one of the most popular and recognizable names in her sport.
“I had moments where I didn’t even want to go to the pool because I knew it was going to be bad,” she said in a press conference a little more than an hour after her race. “It was one of those moments where I felt relief because (taking time off) is what I need to even get to Olympic trials, but it also was hard because 11 weeks out from Olympic trials, you’re taking three weeks out of the water. I wasn’t doing any exercise. I went home and I spent time with my family.”
Manuel said she experienced various symptoms starting in January: an increased heart rate, both at rest and in training; insomnia, depression, lack of appetite, anxiety and muscle soreness.
“Like just walking up the stairs to the pool, I was gassed. Workouts that seemed to be easier seemed to be really hard,” she said.
“It was definitely discouraging. There is the physical component but on top of that is the mental component. I was going to practice and I didn’t want to be there because I knew I wasn’t at my best and that’s hard because I love this sport and that was hard for me to grasp during that time.”
Manuel, who set the American record in the 100 free in 52.04 seconds at the 2019 world championships, ended up in ninth place after the evening’s two semifinals in 54.17, missing the eighth and last spot in the final by .02 seconds.
She said she still plans to compete in the 50 freestyle Saturday.
“I’m gonna go for it.”
When asked if the pandemic might have played a role in her struggles, she said it was possible.
“I think for all of us swimmers to be focusing on the Olympics for a fifth year mentally is just hard. I think it’s hard; that’s an understatement, to push that back, and obviously it was pushed back for important reasons, but to focus on a goal like that for five years instead of four is draining.”
She also said that “being a Black person in America played a part in it. This last year for the Black community has been brutal, and I can’t say that that wasn’t something that I saw. It’s not something I can ignore. It was just another factor that can influence you mentally in a draining way.”
Manuel said being a perfectionist hasn’t always allowed her to appreciate her achievements.
“I’m someone where I accomplish something, I’m always looking forward to the next thing,” she said. “I don’t feel like sometimes I always sit back and appreciate what I’ve done. This was the first time I have shown up to a meet and before I even dove in for a race, I was proud of myself and I think that’s a big step.
“I hope that inspires more athletes to feel that way. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that. I feel like we’re not proud of ourselves until we accomplish something so great. And I’ve done it. I’m an Olympic champion so I know there is more there. That’s what is giving me peace. I know I did everything I possibly could to even be here and that makes me proud because I continue to stay strong during this process even when there are times when I wanted to give up.”
While Manuel found heartache in the women’s 100 freestyle, Caeleb Dressel found joy in the men’s 100 free, winning his first event at these trials in 47.39 seconds, second-fastest in the world this year.
“I’m certainly happy with that,” he said. “I felt that was one of the most technically correct 100 frees I’ve swum, so really happy with that. It’s not always about time.”