U.S. swimmer Simone Manuel, the reigning Olympic gold-medalist and American record-holder in the 100-meter freestyle, revealed Thursday that she had recently missed three weeks of critical Olympic preparation as she struggled with overtraining syndrome, a condition that she says drained her physically and mentally for months.
As reported by The Washington Post, Manuel spoke at an emotional news conference not long after failing to qualify for the Tokyo Games in her signature event during the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.
“There’s the physical component but on top of that is the mental component,” said Manuel, who has one more chance to qualify for Team USA this week. “Like I said, I was going to practice and I didn’t want to be there because I knew I wasn’t at my best. That’s hard because I love this sport.”
Manuel, 24, said she began showing symptoms in January and they got progressively worse over the ensuing weeks. She initially modified her training, but her performance in the pool continued to decline. In March, she and her coaches agreed Manuel needed a break.
Symptoms included insomnia, depression, loss of appetite, anxiety, a short temper and a heart rate that would spike during routine exercise.
“My body wasn’t doing what I knew it was capable of,” she said. “I had moments where I didn’t even want to go to the pool because I knew it was going to be bad. It was one of those moments where I felt relief because this was what I need to get to Olympic trials, but it also was hard because 11 weeks out from Olympic trials, I needed three weeks out of the water.”
Manuel had never heard of overtraining syndrome when she was finally diagnosed by sports psychologists and medical doctors. According to the Post, the National Center for Biotechnology Information defines it as “a maladapted response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in perturbations of multiple body systems (neurologic, endocrinologic, immunologic) coupled with mood changes.”
Manuel, who also took gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Rio Games, as well as two silvers, used her resulting stardom as a platform to speak out on issues of race and justice.
“Being a Black person in America played a part in it. This past year for the Black community has been brutal,” she said. “I can’t say that that wasn’t something that I saw, it’s not something that I could ignore. and it was just another factor that can influence you, mentally in a draining way.”
Other factors included the pandemic, and its impact in delaying the Tokyo Games one year.
“To be focusing on the Olympics for a fifth year, mentally, is just hard,” she said. “Hard is an understatement. … Obviously it was pushed back for important reasons, but to focus on a goal like that for five years instead of four, is draining. You’re motivated still to go for it because it’s your dream. But at the same time, you’re trudging along at times.”
In Thursday evening’s 100 semifinal heat, she posted a time of 54.17, 0.02 of a second away from the final spot in the eight-person finals field. in Thursday evening’s 100 semifinal heat, she posted a time of 54.17, 0.02 of a second away from the final spot in the eight-person finals field.
“I know I did everything I possibly could to even be here — that makes me proud,” Manuel said. “I continued to stay strong during this process, even when there were times when I wanted to give up.
“If your dream is important to you, you fight for it. This definitely was my biggest fight. I hope that people can be proud of themselves with the work they put in before they even see their accomplishments come to fruition. Maybe it didn’t happen today but this isn’t the last time that you’re going to see me and this isn’t the last time that I’ll accomplish something in the pool. I’m confident in that.”