Simone Manuel wins 50m freestyle at US Olympic swimming trials as she continues return from overtraining syndrome

Simone Manuel claimed a tight victory in the women’s 50-meter freestyle at the US Olympic swimming trials on Sunday, edging out Gretchen Walsh by 0.02 seconds.

Manuel, a five-time Olympic medalist, recorded a time of 24.13 seconds at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, almost half a second faster than her qualifying time.

Having already earned a spot at this year’s Paris Olympics as a relay swimmer, the victory means that Manuel will also contest an individual event at her third Games.

To get to this point has not been easy for the 27-year-old Texas native. She struggled with overtraining syndrome ahead of the last Olympics in Tokyo, a condition in which an athlete suffers physical and emotional decline as a result of intense exercise.

According to Manuel, she started to experience an increased heart rate, insomnia, depression, and anxiety, all while her performances began to get worse.

“Anybody who really knows my journey,” Manuel told reporters earlier at the trials, “knows how hard it was to get back into the pool … going to practice and getting my butt kicked every day, missing intervals, having to modify things until I finally got strong enough to complete even a whole week of work. I basically started from ground zero.”

Manuel receives her 50m freestyle medal alongside Gretchen Walsh. - Al Bello/Getty Images
Manuel receives her 50m freestyle medal alongside Gretchen Walsh. - Al Bello/Getty Images

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Manuel became the first Black woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event with her joint victory in the 100m freestyle, while she also won silver in the 50m freestyle.

However, her battle with overtraining syndrome hampered her preparations for the Tokyo Games and she left with just a bronze medal from the 4x100m freestyle relay.

An extended break from training followed – which Manuel has described as “probably the most boring months of my life” – before she returned to training at the start of last year.

“When I really think about how far I’ve come and the mountain I really had to climb, I think it’s really important for me to look back and be proud of myself for continuing to fight through this process and believe in myself,” Manuel said after earning a spot on the 4x100m freestyle relay team for the Paris Olympics.

In Sunday’s other event at the trials, Olympic champion Bobby Finke won the men’s 1,500m freestyle in a time of 14:40.28, finishing 12 seconds ahead of David Johnston, who narrowly beat Luke Whitlock for his spot in the event at the Games.

The Paris Olympics get underway on July 26, with swimming events beginning the follow day.

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