Simone Manuel, America’s fastest swimmer, has the slowest pets

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IRVINE, Calif. — Simone Manuel can cover the length of an Olympic swimming pool in 23.97 seconds, faster than any American woman in history.

Her pets could do it in about 4,000 seconds. If the pool was empty.

Manuel, the Olympic and world champion in the 100m freestyle, came to the U.S. Championships this week following a few life changes.

She recently completed her NCAA career at Stanford, earning the Honda Cup as the top female college athlete in the country. Manuel announced Tuesday that she signed with swimwear sponsor Tyr, kicking off her professional career.

And she recently celebrated her two-month anniversary with Shaka and Zulu.

“I didn’t pick the names,” Manuel said. “My boyfriend picked the names.”

Shaka and Zulu are Manuel’s pet snails. She found them on a walk in May, picked them up and gave them a new home — a Glad container.

“I’ve learned a lot about snails and Googling why they do certain things,” she said.

Snails reach a top speed of 50 yards per hour or about a half-inch per second, according to snail-world.com. It would take them about two weeks to cover a mile without stopping.

“They’ve kind of taught me to slow things down,” Manuel said. “When they come out of their shells I watch them. I don’t know. It’s weird talking about it now.”

Manuel looked plenty fast on the opening night of nationals Wednesday, winning the 100m free in 52.54 seconds, the fastest ever time in a U.S. pool and the second-best time of her career.

Manuel booked a spot in this year’s major international meet — the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo and August — and all but assured her place on the 2019 World Championships team.

Shaka and Zulu are also eligible for a world championships. The world snail racing championships are held every July, the latest edition happening last Saturday in Great Britain. Snails race 13 inches on damp cloths marked with rings, according to Reuters.

In Rio, Manuel became the first female African-American swimmer to win an individual Olympic title. She sometimes feels reduced to a label — “the black swimmer,” she recently wrote — when she knows she is so much more.

Part of that is sharing her life on social media, especially in Instagram stories heavily populated by Shaka, Zulu and her cooking personality, “Chef Swimone.”

Another part is embedded in her Tyr contract. A first-of-its-kind inclusion rider stipulates that Manuel’s partners “extend meaningful opportunities to traditionally underrepresented groups and that diversity be reflected in the creative efforts she pursues with the brand.”

“I’m kind of quirky and nerdy,” said Manuel, a ballerina from age 2 to 12 who performed in “The Nutcracker” in the Houston area. “I don’t really like nature, so I’m not sure why I picked up the snails that day. But I kind of want people to be more involved and really interact with [my social media] and let them have a better understanding of who I am outside of the water.”

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SWIM NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Results | Swimmers to Watch

Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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