After disappointment, Simone Manuel, Nathan Adrian have one last chance to make Olympic swim team

OMAHA, Neb. — It’s the shortest race in the Olympic pool, but the stories of two Americans who could represent the country in the 50 freestyle are long and filled with history.

On Saturday night at the U.S. Olympic trials, Simone Manuel, 24, and Nathan Adrian, 32, both qualified with the third-fastest swims for their 50 finals, which will be held Sunday on the trials’ final night of competition.

Manuel, the American record holder and reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 100 free and American record holder and reigning Olympic silver medalist in the 50 free, spoke Thursday night about her struggles with overtraining, anxiety and depression after failing to qualify for the final in the 100 free.

Two nights later, she qualified for the final of the 50 free.

Simone Manuel reacts after swimming in the 50 freestyle during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha. (Photo: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m just trying to race as best as I possibly can with whatever my body has,” she said after her race, which was her fastest swim since the pandemic. 

She said that sharing her story “took a little weight off my shoulders. I have gotten a lot of nice messages and the responses from people make me feel like I’m not alone. I know I’m probably not the only swimmer who has dealt with this and so to know that I’m hopefully speaking up for others who may have felt lonely in this experience is something that’s really special for me.”

Adrian, the winner of eight Olympic medals, including five gold, in three Olympic Games, has come back to his sport after surgery for testicular cancer in 2019. Four months ago, he became a father.

Saturday night, he did not speak in the mixed zone after his semifinal, but did talk after he failed to qualify for his 100 free final earlier in the trials.

“In the ready room, listening to the music going, hearing the audience get excited, I’ve really, really missed that,” he said. “It was a struggle to get as excited as you needed to get through the year with the Covid restrictions. You feed off of that energy.”

Meanwhile, for Manuel, success was finding a second chance at these trials.

“I do think kind of sharing my story allowed me to free myself and just go out there and fight for my spot on the team,” Manuel said, “or just fight to be a better Simone than I was yesterday.” 

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