Simone Manuel and Nathan Adrian own a combined 44 Olympic and world championships medals. Their Tokyo fates should come down to fractions of a second on the final day of U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials on Sunday.
Manuel and Adrian must finish in the top two of their 50m freestyle finals in Omaha to qualify for the U.S. team.
Each failed to make the final of the 100m free, which Adrian won by .01 at the London Olympics and Manuel tied for gold at the Rio Games, becoming the first U.S. Black female swimmer to take individual gold.
In the 50m free — the splash and dash, the shortest, fastest and usually closest race in swimming — Manuel and Adrian each qualified third into Sunday’s finals.
SWIM TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule | ON HER TURF: Manuel carries unfair burden
Manuel finished ninth in the 100m free on Thursday. Then she disclosed an overtraining syndrome diagnosis in March, taking three weeks out of the pool, and depression.
She was pleased to swim 24.50 seconds in her Saturday semifinal of the 50m free, where she is reigning world champion and the American record holder (23.97).
Only Rio Olympic teammate Abbey Weitzeil (24.27) and 18-year-old Torri Huske (24.45) were faster in the semis. Manuel must beat one of them, plus hold off the other handful in the field.
“I desperately want to be on the team. I feel like I have so much to give this sport, not just in the pool but out of the pool,” Manuel said after being told that Michael Phelps said that the U.S. needs Manuel (and Adrian) on the team (presumably not just for their swimming, but for their leadership and experience). “I just want to see whatever I‘ve got. I want to walk away with my head held high at the end of this meet. Hopefully, it gets me a ticket to Tokyo, but if it doesn’t, I’m proud of myself.”
Adrian’s comeback story is different. It was known going into Olympic Trials that he was no sure thing to qualify in the 100m free, his primary event, even with up to six men going for relay purposes. Adrian, 32, was diagnosed with testicular cancer two and a half years ago and underwent two surgeries.
He entered Olympic Trials ranked eighth in the U.S. in the 100m free since the start of 2019 (though third in 2021). He was 13th in the 100m free semifinals. Adrian’s faster time from prelims, 48.37, would have qualified fifth into the eight-man final.
“I knew that prelims was going to be a lot faster, a lot more difficult than normal, so I probably threw a little bit more emotional energy into prelims than I should have,” he said.
Adrian, who made the last three Olympic teams, since Rio got married and became a father.
“When I had a bad practice before [having a family], it was a little bit of a dagger in the heart,” he said. “Now I sort of go home and I let it go immediately and get to give my wife and my baby a big hug and a kiss.”
PODCAST: Nathan Adrian talks cancer battle on ‘My New Favorite Olympian’
A look at today’s races
Men’s 50m Freestyle FINAL — 8:15 p.m. ET
It looks tougher for Adrian to make the team than Manuel. World champion Caeleb Dressel swam 21.51 in the semis (after a 100m butterfly final) and owns the American record of 21.04. Michael Andrew, one of the most impressive swimmers of the meet who won the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley, went 21.55. Adrian, who went 21.78 in semis, hasn’t gone 21.55 or faster since getting bronze at the Rio Olympics.
Women’s 50m Freestyle FINAL — 8:26
Like Adrian, Manuel came in third in semis behind two swimmers who already won events this past week in Weitzeil and Huske. In 2019 alone, Manuel went faster than Huske’s second-place semi time on a total of seven occasions. There’s reason to believe that Huske (and Weitzeil) will go faster in the final, but Manuel certainly can, too. She was hopeful after the semifinals that she can make improvements on her semifinal swim. She will likely need to.
Men’s 1500m Freestyle FINAL — 8:34
Bobby Finke, who won the 800m free, qualified fastest into the final by 3.27 seconds. If Finke wins, and Dressel wins the 50m, then all six men’s freestyles will have been won by current or former University of Florida swimmers. Michael Brinegar, who also made the team in the 800m, was second in the prelims. Jordan Wilimovsky, who made the team in the open-water 10km, was third. The U.S. put no men into the world championships 1500m finals in 2017 and 2019.
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