Reigning 100m freestyle Olympic champion Simone Manuel stunningly crashed out of the semi-finals of her gold medal event at the US Olympic swimming trials.
Manuel made history in Rio de Janeiro when she became the first African American woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold — tying for first with Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the prestigious 100m free.
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World titles followed in 2017 and 2019 — where she beat Australian sprint superstar Cate Campbell, who finished with silver two years ago in South Korea — but she was shut out of Friday’s final with the ninth-fastest time of the semis.
Natalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga finished in a dead-heat in their semi-final to lead the times in 53.55 seconds. Manuel was fourth in the same semi in 54.17.
Abbey Weitzeil, a 4x100m free relay gold medallist in Rio in 2016, won the second semi in the third-fastest time of the night of 53.66 and Erika Brown emerged from that heat to claim the No. 8 berth ahead of Manuel in 54.15.
At her peak, Manuel would have been expected to threaten the Australian pairing of Campbell and Emma McKeon, but they won’t have to worry about her in Tokyo.
Manuel, fighting back tears in a post-race press conference, revealed that after struggling in her training early this year she had been diagnosed in March with over-training syndrome, her symptoms ranging from physical fatigue and lack of progress in her training to depression.
“Just walking up the stairs to the pool I was gassed,” she said. “There’s the physical component, but on top of that is the mental component.
“From a mental perspective it’s hard to put it into words. During this process I definitely was depressed. I isolated myself from my family.
“I had a hard time eating at times. I think the only way I got through it was talking to my loved ones.”
After dialling back her training schedule she eventually took three weeks out of the water, returning to the pool on April 17.
It was a massive chunk of time to miss so close to the Olympics, and Manuel said she knew she had done everything in her power to get herself ready for trials and a bid to defend her title.
“I know I did everything I possibly could to even be here,” she said. “And that makes me proud.
“This was the first time I showed up to a meet and before I even dove in to do a race I was proud of myself. I think that’s a big step.”
Manuel’s result stunned America. Swimming writer Braden Keith tweeted: “Oh my god. Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford, the last two American Record holders in the 100 free, are both out of the semi-finals.”
Sports writer Henry Bushnell said: “Simone Manuel not even reaching finals in the 100 free at Olympic trials is a stunner.”
Sports columnist Christine Brennan called it a “shocker”, journalist Nathan Fenno said it was a “stunning development” and Olympic expert David Woods tweeted about Manuel’s exit being “one of the biggest stunners” of the trials.