2016 Olympic gold medalist and Olympic and World Record holder Simone Manuel has been a pro for over a year now, and in that time she has adapted to the lifestyle and demands of being one of swimming’s biggest icons.
Manuel’s next major competition will be the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. Manuel made history in 2016 when she won the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter freestyle, becoming the first African-American woman in history to win an individual gold medal in swimming, and also tying with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak. The following summer at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Manuel overpowered the freshly-minted World Record holder in the 100 freestyle, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, and took back the American Record from teammate Mallory Comerford to win gold and her first individual world championship in 52.27.
Manuel’s most recent competition came at the 2019 Pro Swim Series stop in Bloomington. There, Manuel won the 100 free in 53.65, though she had been 1/10th faster in prelims. Even so, she is faster than she was this time last year, which bodes well for Worlds.
“I do believe that I’m set up well for Worlds. I feel like my competitions have been where I would like them to be. I’ve been faster in-season in my events than I was last year and training’s been going really well, so I’m pretty confident with how I’ll swim at Worlds,” Manuel told SwimSwam.
The first year as a high-profile professional athlete can be strenuous, and many athletes have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of their sponsors, which often require travel to events. Manuel recently stated that she has set a travel deadline for until after Worlds. Considering what has contributed to her success this season, Manuel sees it as a bit of the old and the new: she still trains with Stanford and her coach Greg Meehan, and she’s becoming adept at making swimming her job.
“I don’t know that there’s anything in particular. I guess, like, maybe when the season is over I probably would have to re-evaluate that, but I’m still training hard, I’m still training with the Stanford Women’s Swim Team, maybe becoming a little bit more adjusted to professional life could be why my times have been better this year, but overall I think it’s just training hard and just trying to continue to get better.”
The World Championships are undoubtedly a big deal, but Manuel’s primary focus is 2020, when she wants to perform at her best at both U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Olympics themselves. This year, Manuel is after best times and, admittedly, medals, which best times in either the 50 or 100 freestyle should reap, though Omaha and Tokyo remain paramount.
“I definitely have some specific and lofty goals, but overall I just want to swim well, get some best times, win medals for Team USA, and just see how I can improve at that meet. But also just looking forward to swimming well in 2020 at Olympic Trials and Tokyo. Obviously I want to swim really well at World Championships, but it’s kind of also a stepping stone to see where I need to be in 2020.”
Manuel will not have the world’s fastest time in either the 50 or the 100 freestyle going into the competition. In fact, she remains outside of the top-8 in the world rankings in both events, but she is not phased by what other athletes are doing, and instead remains confident in her own work.
“I definitely think that a big part of my success is based off the fact that I’m focusing on the things that I need to focus on, and then when I get to the big meet I just do what I need to do, and if that results in a win then it results in a win. I really just try to focus on what I’ve been doing in training and what I need to do in competition, and that’s what helps me be the most successful, as opposed to focusing on what others may be doing.”
While the World Championships is the largest swim meet on the planet this year, the largest swim meet in the United States remains U.S. Nationals, which will be held from July 31st to August 4th at Stanford’s own Avery Aquatic Center. Worlds will conclude on Sunday, July 28th, making for a quick turnaround to U.S. Nationals.
“Currently I haven’t really made a decision on whether or not I’m swimming at Nationals. I am coming back here, but I haven’t made a decision, just kind of with it being so close to the end of Worlds, I haven’t decided,” said Manuel. “I think it kind of just boils down to a conversation I have with my coach, but we haven’t decided whether or not I’m swimming at Nationals.”