Confident and Focused, Simone Manuel Is Zeroing In On the World Championships

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.”

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1 year ago

This may sound selfish of me, but I would love to see Ms. Manuel swim some off events at nationals (100 back and 100 fly) fresh off of a taper and go under a minute in both events.

1 year ago

Sort of surprised how far down Manuel is in rankings, #9 in 50 Free and #11 in 100 Free? Surely she has to be taking a peek and seeing how uphill she is going to have to swim. Not really a great sign that she is putting out the “stepping stone” line about Worlds and that she can only focus on what she can do. Worlds events are not time trials, they are races against competitors. Kind of kidding herself if she thinks this approach brought “success” at Pan Pacs last year, unfortunately did not.

Jim C
Reply to  Sherwood
1 year ago

I am surprised to see Shayna Jack listed at number 8 with a 24.38 and Simone Manuel listed at number 9 wit a 24.34.

Reply to  Sherwood
1 year ago

Hmmm…so you think winning 2 silver medals at Pan Pacs is not “success”?
Or is it success for everyone else, just not Simone?
And her treating Worlds like it’s a time trials is just a ridiculous statement. She is simply saying that she can only control what she is doing. She is aware that she is racing against competitors. She did that at the 2016 Olympics and the last World Championships, and many many other meets She is simply saying she focused on doing her best instead of spinning her wheels and expending her energy worrying about what everybody else is doing…something she cannot control!

Reply to  Minnow
1 year ago

Well, Manuel did get kind of smoked by C1 on three or more occasions at Pan Pacs. I find it hard to believe she would not be tracking Cate and Sjostrom’s times and gulping a bit right now.

Reply to  Melbourne
1 year ago

she will step up nonetheless this summer …let’s see

Reply to  Melbourne
1 year ago

After she smoked C1 in two events at the BIGGEST meet in the world. Or was it just mental, shoulder, gag or choke job from C1.

1 year ago

While no way as dramatic as Missy Franklins tanking, I continue to predict Simone will not shine this summer or in 2020. She has been an AMAZING icon and spokesperson for both swimming and minorities. Wish her well as she moves into her next venture beyond swimming.

Reply to  Daboss
1 year ago

Maybe wait until the meet is over until you make that call. She is never way up in the rankings but delivers when it matters.

Reply to  IRO
1 year ago

Predictions are made prior to an event it would therefore be inappropriate to make a prediction when “the meet is over”. I agree with you that she has delivered in the past.

Reply to  Daboss
1 year ago

Icon? No. Not even close. Self-appointed spokesperson maybe.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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