More than four years ago, Simone Manuel made history by becoming the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal in swimming. While in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Manuel also won a gold medal in the women's 4x100-meter medley. After an incredible run in 2016, she emerged as a favorite to return to the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. However, that proved to be much tougher than many swimming experts previously thought.
Just a few months ago, swimming at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan seemed like an afterthought for Manuel. At the top of the year, she began to experience muscle fatigue, shortness of breath and an elevated heart rate. By March, her symptoms had worsened and she was forced to take a break from swimming until mid-April. In Manuel's words, she suffered from "overtraining syndrome."
“To focus on a goal like that for five years instead of four is draining," Manuel said.
"You’re motivated still to go for it, because it’s your dream. But also, at the same time, it’s like you're trudging along.”
Thankfully, Manuel's symptoms did not result in long-term health damage. In fact, she was able to get back into the pool by the end of April. Pushing through for six more weeks of training, Manuel felt prepared as she headed into the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. Then, another roadblock appeared. Manuel failed to qualify for the final heat of the 100-meter freestyle, an event she won an Olympic Gold Medal for in 2016. Never one to give up, Manuel hopped into the pool once more as she hoped to qualify for the 50-meter freestyle. With everything on the line, Manuel showed up and showed out. She finished in first by 0.01 seconds and immediately embraced her friend and Olympic teammate Abbey Weitzeil after the race.
"This year has been difficult, especially the last couple of months," Manuel said.
"But before I dove in, I felt like it was my moment. And I'm so thankful for the blessings that God has given me."
The hard work Manuel and her coach put in have paid off. She will travel to Tokyo, Japan next month alongside Weitzeil and her former college teammate, Katie Ledecky.