Yet here she was Sunday morning, on the pool deck at Tokyo Aquatics Centre, with three teammates, ready to anchor an Olympic relay.
“I’m happy to be up here with these three women,” Manuel said.
Those words were true just when she showed up because even that represented a victory. But they were particularly true after Manuel gutted out an anchor leg that allowed the U.S. women to take bronze in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay — well behind the world record pace of the gold medalists from Australia but one that kept alive the United States’ streak of winning medals in the event that goes back 22 Olympics.
“Even though the last couple of months have not been the greatest for me, I’ve trained really hard the past 4½, five years,” Manuel said. “So eventually, that hard work will show up.”
Manuel, 24, ended up in that position in part because the Americans were desperate for a spark. This generation of Australian sprinters is deep and talented, and the two women in the pool last — Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell — had posted 11 of the 12 fastest times in the 100 free this year. In preliminary heats Saturday night, the United States could do no better than snaring the fifth seed, more than three seconds behind the swift Australians.
So the U.S. coaches — led by Greg Meehan, the head coach here who coached Manuel at Stanford and coaches her still — made wholesale changes to the lineup, keeping only Natalie Hinds from the preliminaries and inserting Erika Brown and Abby Weitzeil. Such changes are normal before the final.
But the biggest surprise was Manuel at the anchor leg. At the trials in Omaha, she finished ninth in the semifinals and thus watched eight others compete for two Olympic spots. After emerging from that swim, Manuel spoke emotionally about her struggles with mental health, including depression and overtraining syndrome. All that forced her to take a three-week break from training, which in swimming is almost impossible to overcome in the run-up to an Olympics.
“After trials, it was really difficult not making it in the 100 freestyle,” Manuel said. “I’m grateful to be on this team. I took some time to acknowledge my emotions and get back to work.”
At the trials, Manuel gathered herself enough to make the team in the 50 free, an event in which she won silver in Rio five years ago. She said she spent some time training in the 100 free during the U.S. camp in Hawaii, but that was more to mix up her workouts. She was guaranteed no other swims here — until the coaching staff told her Saturday night that she would be included in the final of the relay.
“I’m always excited and pumped for relays,” Manuel said. “It’s different when you go behind the blocks and instead of being alone, there are other people right there. It’s an experience that is amazing. I don’t take it lightly.
The U.S. team’s history in the women’s 4×100 relay is staggering. The event debuted at the 1912 Stockholm Games, a year in which the U.S. squad did not enter a team. Since then, American women had medaled every time they showed up to contest the race — 22 straight, including 14 golds.
By the time Weitzeil posted the Americans’ fastest split (52.68) and Hinds touched the wall after her third leg — having made up time, putting the U.S. squad in third — it was up to Manuel to finish it off.
“I knew that when I dove in, I had to give it everything I had,” she said, “and that’s exactly what I did.”
For a time, Manuel appeared to have enough to hold off Penny Oleksiak of Canada — the very swimmer whom Manuel had tied for gold in Rio. At the wall, though, Oleksiak touched in 3:32.78 — more than three seconds back of the Australians and their world record but 0.03 ahead of Manuel.
These Olympics, delayed a year by the pandemic and staged before the coronavirus has been eradicated, have taken a toll, in some way, on everyone, Olympian or not.
What Simone Manuel did Sunday morning, though, was beat back all she had been through — and persevere, regaining her confidence in the process.
“I don’t think it mattered whether I was on this relay or not,” Manuel said. “I’ve seen improvements since going to trials, and it doesn’t do me any justice to step up on the blocks and not be confident.”
Simone Manuel and the U.S. win bronze in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.
Sugar Land’s Simone Manuel wins Olympic bronze as part of U.S. 4X100 freestyle relay
Sugar Land’s Simone Manuel is stacking up the Olympic hardware.
The Fort Bend Austin High School graduate won bronze while anchoring the 4X100 freestyle relay, which took place Sunday morning in Tokyo (Saturday night in America).
Australia won the gold, while Canada grabbed the silver by narrowly edging an American squad of Erika Brown, Abbey Weitzeil, Natalie Hinds, and Manuel.
Manuel will also be competing in the 50-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics. Her bronze won Saturday night adds on to the two golds and two silvers she won at the 2016 Olympics.
Manuel’s efforts were part of a 6-medal night for Team USA Swimming in Tokyo that included one gold, two silvers, and three bronze medals.
The United States, with Simone Manuel swimming the anchor leg as a surprising substitute, won the bronze medal in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay on Sunday.
Australia, the heavy favorite, won gold with a world-record time of 3:29.69, and Canada took the silver. The Americans finished in 3:32.81 when Manuel was beaten to the wall by Canada’s Penny Oleksiak.
Manuel was making her first appearance at the Tokyo Games, and much earlier than some had expected. She did not swim in the relay semifinals on Saturday and will not swim again until the individual 50-meter freestyle this weekend.
But after the United States finished a disappointing fifth in qualifying, Manuel, who had won gold in the relay and the 100 freestyle at the 2016 Rio Games, was drafted in to strengthen the team.
Questions had swirled about whether Manuel would swim in the event at all after she failed to qualify in the 100 free, her signature event, at the U.S. selection meet in June.
Her stunned expression after winning gold in the individual event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio remains a lasting image from those Games. With that victory, Manuel became the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic swimming event.
But her failure to qualify in the individual event for Tokyo had been a shock, given that Manuel is the American record-holder in the event. Afterward, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier in the year. Along with extreme fatigue, she had been experiencing depression and insomnia and had been required to step back from her normal, intense training routine.
Simone Ashley Manuel (born August 2, 1996) is an American competition swimmer specializing in sprint freestyle. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she won two gold and two silver medals: gold in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley, and silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. In winning the 100-meter freestyle, a tie with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming and set an Olympic record and an American record. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she won a bronze medal as the anchor of the American 4×100-meter freestyle relay team.
Manuel also holds three world records as a member of a relay team, and she is a six-time individual NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships champion, becoming one of the first three African American women to place in the top three spots in the 100-yard freestyle event in any Division I NCAA Swimming Championship. From 2014 to 2018, she attended Stanford University, where she swam for the Stanford Cardinal and helped Stanford win the NCAA team championship in women’s swimming and diving in 2017 and 2018. She turned pro in July 2018.
|Long course (50 m pool)|
|50 m freestyle||23.97||Budapest, Hungary||July 30, 2017||NR, AM|||
|100 m freestyle||52.04||Gwangju, South Korea||July 26, 2019||NR, AM|||
|50 yd freestyle (SC)||21.17||March 16, 2017|
|100 yd freestyle (SC)||45.56||March 18, 2017||NR, AM|
- NR – National Record
- AM – Americas Record
|4 x 50 m||Mixed medley relay[a]||1:37.17||Glasgow, Scotland||December 21, 2013|||
|4 × 100 m||Mixed freestyle relay[b]||3:23.05||Kazan, Russia||August 8, 2015|||
|4 × 100 m||Women’s medley relay (sc)[c]||3:45.20||Indianapolis, Indiana||December 11, 2015|||
|4 × 100 m||Mixed medley relay[d]||3:38.56||Budapest, Hungary||July 27, 2017|||
|4 × 100 m||Mixed freestyle relay[e]||3:19.60||Budapest, Hungary||July 29, 2017|||
|4 × 100 m||Women’s medley relay[f]||3:51.55||Budapest, Hungary||July 30, 2017|||
|4 x 100 m||Mixed freestyle relay[g]||3:19.40||Gwangju, South Korea||July 27, 2019|||