Olympic champion Simone Manuel, one of Team USA’s emotional leaders, will not be able to defend her Olympic 100 free title.
Manuel finished 9th in tonight’s semifinals, going 54.17. Per NBC’s TV coverage of tonight’s U.S. Olympic Trials, an exhausted Manuel was out of the pool for three weeks this spring.
“Simone has had a difficult stretch,” said TV commentator Mike Tirico, noting the trials of the past year. The first Black woman (of any nationality) to win Olympic gold in swimming, Manuel has been an outspoken advocate for racial justice over the past year. But as the United States has undergone a nationwide reckoning on race, Manuel has also been open about the exhausting toll the past year has taken on her.
When something as simple as swimming while Black becomes an experience of humiliation and a possible run in with the law… Just sad. Exhausting… https://t.co/NLZ5JNJ52j
— Simone Manuel (@swimone) July 20, 2020
Since George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis last May, the nation has undergone a lengthy and often painful conversation on racial discrimination. Manuel, still one of just a few Black swimmers on the U.S. National Team, has often had to take a leadership role in that conversation as it’s played out in the realm of swimming.
“Simone Manuel, being one of the few – not just in America, but in the world – elite Black swimmers,” Tirico said on tonight’s broadcast, “after winning the gold in Rio, she became a person who was always asked about that topic.”
“She was exhausted,” Tirico said, also noting that because of the pandemic, Manuel had been unable to travel back home and see her family during that already-trying time.
Manuel scratched out of the 200 free earlier this week, but qualified 6th in this morning’s 100 free heats in what looked like a pretty smooth 54.47. In tonight’s semifinals, Manuel went a little faster, but her 54.17 missed the top 8 by just .02 seconds. With Manuel out of the final, the U.S. 4×100 free relay will need lots of other less-experienced swimmers to step up – Manuel has been a mainstay of that relay on the world level since 2013. She’s also the two-time defending World champ and the defending Olympic champ in the individual 100 free.
She’s still got one more entry this week: the 50 free, where she won World Championships gold in 2019. Heats of that event will take place on Saturday morning.