When Simone Manuel whipped around to see the “1” beside her name, months of emotions came pouring out.
She closed her eyes, brought her hands together in prayer and struggled to hold back the tears.
Abbey Weitzeil, the woman she had just beaten, leaped over the lane rope with a huge smile — so happy for her friend that she didn’t mind settling for the runner-up spot Sunday.
Everyone in the stands leaped to their feet, saluting Manuel’s perseverance with an ovation that rocked the Omaha arena.
Days after revealing she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome, Manuel provided the most stirring moment of the entire U.S. Olympic swimming trials on its final night by winning the chaotic 50-metre freestyle.
It was all or nothing for Manuel, whose Olympic hopes came down to one hectic dash from one end of the pool to the other.
She got there first, locking up a trip to Tokyo and the chance to make more history — five years becoming the first Black woman to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event.
“More than anything, I’m relieved,” she said. “Today may have been the longest day of my life and the longest 50 of my life.”
Dressel ties own American record
While Manuel is heading back to the Olympics, Nathan Adrian’s bid for a fourth appearance at the Summer Games came up just short when he finished third in the men’s 50 free.
Caeleb Dressel tied his American record with another dominating performance, touching about a half-body length ahead of Michael Andrew in 21.04 seconds.
Get ready, Tokyo. Dressel will have three individual races at the Olympics, not to mention at least three relays.
Plenty of chances to live up the hype as America’s next great men’s swimming star after the retirement of Michael Phelps.
“This is brutal, the pressure. I like it,” Dressel said. “I’m happy we executed well and in a month we get to go have some more fun.”
‘A lot of hard work in the bank’
But this night was all about Manuel.
Her dreams were seemingly dashed when she failed to even qualify for the final of the 100 free, the event she won at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
After that disappointing performance, she opened up about the struggles she’s been going through. With her body aching, Manuel was diagnosed in March with the condition commonly known as burnout, forcing her to suspend training for three weeks.
The layoff came at the worst possible time, with the Olympic trials right around the corner, and Manuel was clearly not at her best in her first event of the week.
As it turned out, opening up about her condition — and receiving so much support and encouragement from teammates, fans and people she’s never met — seemed to be greatest salve.
“I definitely think sharing that information allowed me to swim more free,” Manuel said. “I have a lot of hard work in the bank.”
It paid off when Manuel furiously covered the length of the pool in 24.29 to edge Weitzeil by one-hundredth of a second.
Weitzeil had already had locked up her spot on the team with a victory in the 100 free, and the second-place showing ensured she’ll also swim the 50 in Tokyo.
No one in the arena was pulling harder for Manuel than the woman swimming in the lane right next to her.
“I told her before we walked out, `We’re coming out together,”‘ Weitzeil said. “During the race, I saw her right there. I was like, `Yes! Let’s go! C’mon!’ That’s what I was thinking the whole time”
Manuel can’t wait to get to another Olympics. She won’t get a chance to defend her groundbreaking title from Rio, but she’s got no complaints after the past few months.
“Even though I didn’t make it in the 100, my goal was to make to the team,” he said. “I’ll have to regroup and hopefully swim faster so I can win a medal for Team USA.
“I’m glad I can walk away with my head held high.”