OMAHA, Neb. — Simone Manuel’s right hand slammed into the wall in Lane 3 Sunday night, and even before she could turn to look at the massive scoreboard above her to see if she was a Tokyo Olympian or if she was not, her rival in Lane 4, Abbey Weitzeil, launched herself over the lane rope, coming right for her.
Weitzeil had already taken a peek at the scoreboard. She had seen that she was second, and that Manuel was first. Such is the nature of the Olympic trials — where Weitzeil had already made the U.S. team in the 100 freestyle and Manuel had not — that this was a cause for celebration for Weitzeil.
So she wrapped up Manuel in her arms, smiling broadly as Manuel finally looked at the results of the women’s 50-meter freestyle on the final night of the U.S. Olympic trials.
Manuel: 24.29 seconds
Weitzeil: 24.30 seconds
“You did it," Weitzeil said to her. “I’m so proud of you.”
Three days after revealing that she was suffering from overtraining, anxiety and depression this year, three days after baring her soul in the midst of the most stressful swim meet of the past five years, Manuel, 24, had qualified for the Tokyo Games.
“More than anything I’m relieved just to be back on the team,” Manuel said, “and having another opportunity to swim for Team USA is just a blessing.”
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 the struggles that caused her to miss three weeks of training two months before the Olympic trials. She chose to reveal that she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome after failing to qualify for the 100 freestyle final.
“I definitely think sharing that information allowed me to swim more free,” she said after her victory. “My goal was to make the Olympic team. I’m just so happy to accomplish part of my goal.”
There was an outpouring of support for Manuel, the only Black female swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal, in the hours after she spoke about what she has been going through this year, led by Weitzeil.
After winning the 100 free Friday night, Weitzeil, 24, said Manuel would be missed in the 4x100 freestyle relay, then looked ahead to the 50.
“I’m going to be cheering my head off for her in the 50 as I’m swimming,” said Weitzeil, who won a gold and silver medal in the relays at the 2016 Olympics. “I want her to do so well. I really want her with us on the team. She is an awesome person and teammate and leader and competitor.”
To prove her point, Weitzeil said she knew where Manuel was in the lane next to her in their fast dash from one end of the pool to the other and was cheering for her.
“The whole race, I’m like, ‘Come on, come on, come on,’” Weitzeil said.
There’s a bit of a backstory here. In addition to being 2016 Olympic teammates, Manuel said, “I think we have a friendly rivalry. She’s a Cal Bear, I’m a Stanford Cardinal. Every time we step up on the blocks next to each other, we really push each other to be the best version of ourselves when we race.
“After the 50 free prelims, she was like, we’re doing this. It’s really nice when you have a competitor that’s competing against you when you step up on the blocks but really is your friend and just wants the best for you.”
In the men’s 50 freestyle, Caeleb Dressel tied his American record in a time of 21.04 seconds, qualifying for the Olympic team in his third individual event, and likely in four relays as well.
“I hadn’t had this in awhile,” he said of the week of intense competition. “I didn’t know how much I missed it.”
Second in the race was Michael Andrew, who also made the team in his third individual event, as well as one relay.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Simone Manuel qualifies for 50 free, headed to Tokyo Olympics