Simone Manuel misses Olympic Trials final, details overtraining syndrome, depression

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Simone Manuel, after failing to make the Olympic Trials 100m freestyle final, revealed that she was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome in March, was out of the pool for three weeks until April 17 and dealt with depression, anxiety and insomnia.

“This was definitely my biggest fight,” Manuel said in a tearful but determined 24-minute press conference. “[Physically] it started a little bit in January. I think it was something that I didn’t quite notice until my body like completely crashed.”

Manuel, who tied for first in the Rio Olympic 100m free to become the first U.S. Black female swimmer to take individual gold, clocked 54.17 seconds in the semifinals of her first event of Trials in Omaha on Thursday night. She was the ninth-fastest swimmer, missing Friday’s eight-woman final by .02.

Her American record is 52.04 seconds from the 2019 World Championships, where she became the first woman to win seven medals at a single worlds.

Manuel has one more chance to make the Olympic team in the 50m free, with prelims and semis on Saturday and the final on Sunday. She is also the reigning world champion and American record holder in that event.

Manuel took peace knowing she did everything possible to perform at her best given the circumstances, persevering when there were times she wanted to give up.

“This was the first time I think I showed up to a meet, and before I even dove in to do a race, I was proud of myself,” she said. “I think that’s a big step. I hope that inspires more athletes to feel that way. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that. I feel like we’re not proud of ourselves until we accomplish something so great, and I’ve done it. I’m an Olympic champion.”

SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | Women’s Event Previews | Men’s Event Previews

Manuel said she felt “pretty bad” the week before a Pro Series meet in San Antonio that ran from March 3-6. The first symptom she had was an increased heart rate at rest and also during “simple sets” in training. That was followed by insomnia, depression, anxiety and sore muscles.

“Walking up the stairs to the pool, I was gassed,” she said.

Manuel won the 50m and 100m frees at the San Antonio meet. She then traveled to visit family in Houston, where she saw a doctor and was diagnosed.

She went back to her Stanford base and continued on a modified training regimen. Her overall performance declined over two weeks. After talking with doctors and coach Greg Meehan, she took three weeks out of the pool starting in late March. Manuel said she did not exercise during that time off.

“I went home, and I spent time with my family,” she said. “It was an uphill climb once I got back in the water. Some days were good. Some days weren’t great.”

Manuel elaborated on the mental effects.

“I isolated myself from my family,” she said. “My mom would ask me questions on the phone, and I would snap at her in times I typically wouldn’t. I had a hard time eating at times. I think the only way I got through it was talking to my loved ones and being surrounded by the support that they could give me, talking to my sports psychologist, openly talking to Greg and [coach] Tracy [Slusser] about what I was feeling after each practice or if I had a down day.”

Manuel swam at one more meet before the Olympic Trials, clocking 53.83 in a 100m free and 24.74 in a 50m free on May 20-21 in Texas. A 53.83 would have qualified fifth into Friday’s 100m free final. The 24.74 put her ninth in the U.S. rankings for the 50m free this year.

Then last Saturday, in a pre-Olympic Trials press conference, Manuel deemed herself ready to race.

“I think I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me,” she said Thursday in retrospect. “I still don’t want them to feel sorry for me now. I’m confident that the path that God has me on is the path that I’m supposed to be on.”

After Thursday’s swims, she said “things still feel hard.”

“My speed doesn’t seem to be there with the effort that I’m trying,” she said.

A doctor told her that, pending she makes the Olympic team, she needs to take two months off to let her body rest.

“I think I’ll be fine,” she said. “I think that I’ll continue to follow doctors’ orders and take it slow as I get back into the pool, whenever that happens.”

Manuel was asked, in the last question of the press conference, if the pandemic played a role in what she described in the previous 20 minutes. It could have, she said at first.

She elaborated, believing that two factors played into it: the mental challenge of having to train an extra year for a postponed Olympics and being a Black person in America.

“This last year for the Black community has been brutal, and I can’t say that that wasn’t something that I saw,” she said. “It’s not something I can ignore, and it was just another factor that can influence you, mentally, in a draining way. I think that those were two things that played into a little bit of the overtraining in some ways.”

Manuel expressed determination to race the 50m free, beginning Saturday morning.

“Maybe it didn’t happen today, but this isn’t the last time you’re going to see me,” she said, “and this isn’t the last time I’m going to do something great in the pool.”

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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