Log in

Simone Manuel channels her winning side, touches first in 50 free to claim individual Olympic race


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Simone Manuel was feeling a bit down as she prepared for her final shot to swim an individual event at the Paris Olympics.

So she pulled out some video of her greatest hits.

Talk about a confidence boost.

The first Black female swimmer to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, Manuel earned an individual spot on the final night of the U.S. swimming trials with a victory in the 50-meter freestyle Sunday.

Coming back from overtraining syndrome, which hampered her preparations leading up to the Tokyo Games, Manuel won the frantic dash from one end of the pool to the other in 24.13 seconds.

She looked a bit surprised when she saw the "1" beside her name on the scoreboard, pumping her fist emphatically. She kept shaking her head as she walked across the deck.

“I wasn't feeling real confident after last night,” said Manuel, who was only the fourth-fastest qualifier in the semifinals, nearly a half-second behind Gretchen Walsh. “I spent a lot of time watching races where I won. I wanted to channel that Simone because I know I'm a winner.”

Speaking of winners, Bobby Finke will head to the Olympics looking to defend his titles in the two longest freestyle events.

He won the final event of the trials, blowing away the field in the 1,500 freestyle with a time of 14 minutes, 40.28 seconds. He already had qualified in the 800 free, the other event he won in Tokyo.

The real race was for the final spot on the Olympic team between David Johnston and Luke Whitlock. They were neck and neck nearly the entire race, before Johnston started to pull away with six laps remaining.

Whitlock nearly caught him with a stunning final sprint, but Johnston barely held on to clinch his first trip to the Olympics in 14:52.74. Whitlock touched right behind him at 14:53.00.

Whitlock will still be in Paris, having earned a spot in the 800 freestyle.

“This meet didn't go the way I planned,” said Johnston, who barrolwy missed out in his other events with a third-place finish in the 400 free and fourth-place showing in the 800 free. “It took everything I had to get to that wall. My legs at 300 meters were completely gone. I'm glad I kind of saved my meet.”

Manuel had already clinched a spot at her third Olympics on the 4x100 freestyle relay, but now she's got an event all to herself. Walsh claimed the second spot in Paris at 24.15, beating out Abbey Weitzeil (24.26) and Torri Huske (24.33).

Manuel will try to add to an already impressive resume, highlighted by her starring role at the the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games when she captured two gold medals and two silvers.

Manuel's times began to slip ahead of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games. After she stunningly failed to qualify in the 100 freestyle, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome.

Manuel bounced back to earn a spot in the 50 freestyle, but she didn't advance to the final at the Olympics. Her only medal was a bronze anchoring the 4x100 free relay.

After the games, Manuel was ordered by her doctor to shut down all physical activity until her body healed. She finally returned to the pool in early 2023, but didn't event attempt to qualify for the world championships last summer.

But a move to Arizona, where she trained under Michael Phelps' longtime coach Bob Bowman began to pay dividends.

Now, she's got another Olympic race to show for it after coming up short in the 100 free with a fourth-place showing.

“It means a lot,” Manuel said. “This meet hasn’t been exactly what I wanted or what I worked hard for. It’s been a roller coaster. I’m grateful to be back on the team, and that’s how I was feeling after the 100 free but also disappointed in the swim. I really wanted to try to refocus for the 50, get back on the team in an individual swim.”

When she made the team in the 50 free three years ago, it felt like the longest lap of her life.

She had that same feeling again Sunday, her arms churning and legs kicking in swimming's most hectic event.

“I wanted it bad. I really wanted to swim an individual event,” Manuel said. “It wasn’t that I was shocked that I could win because I know the work I put in and the racer that I am. It’s more excitement. I’m glad it happened today, that I was No. 1 to touch the wall.”

Johnston had that same feeling after his first two events of the trials produced crushing disappointments.

He turned to a football analogy to motivate himself, which seemed appropriate with the trials being held at the cavernous home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

“I'm just going to get out there, just give it everything I have, and kind of throw a Hail Mary," Johnston told himself. “I went out there and said Hail Mary and got to the wall second.”

Finke will head to the Olympics with much higher expectations than he faced in 2021, when he stunningly claimed the 800-1,500 double.

Now, he's the guy with the target on his back.

But he'll worry about that another day. About halfway through his 1,500 victory, he began thinking of all the things he wanted after the race.

“I'm looking to this next week of junk food I can eat,” Finke said, grinning. “I'm really looking forward to eating some pizza and burgers, just having some sweets.”


AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games