Simone Manuel’s Miraculous Comeback and the Rise of Katie Squared

By Savannah Moore

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The first major surprise of the Olympic swimming trials was when 2016 Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle finals, finishing ninth in the semifinals. Manuel became the first black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming with her performance in that very event just five years earlier.

Shortly after her disappointing performance, Manuel revealed several health struggles that were unknown to the public. The 24-year old revealed that in March, just a few months before the trials, she had been diagnosed with overtraining syndrome and the symptoms forced her out of the water for weeks. Manuel explained that she suffered from muscle soreness, insomnia, an elevated heart rate, anxiety, and depression as a result of overtraining. Manuel was participating in one other event at the trials, the 50m freestyle, but after she revealed her struggles, few thought we would see her in Tokyo.

Simone Manuel reacts after making the U.S. Olympic team, by finishing first in the 50m freestyle.
SOURCE: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

In a chaotic 50m race, Manuel finished first, qualifying for her second Olympic Games. Manuel finished only 0.01 seconds ahead of Abbey Weitzeil. Weitzeil swam over to Manuel immediately after touching the wall to embrace her, despite the fact that she had finished second. Although Manuel will not be able to defend her 2016 gold medal, she will have an opportunity to improve upon her 2016 silver in the 50m freestyle.

Another 2016 Olympian who will be going to Tokyo is Katie Ledecky. Ledecky has been one of the most dominant swimmers in the world for nearly a decade, and she may be the daughter of Posedian, but that has not been proven yet. Ledecky left no room for drama in every event that she competed in at the Trials, placing first in the 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m races. Her most impressive performance came in the 800m freestyle, as she finished five seconds ahead of the field. Despite this achievement, Ledecky was not the talking point of the race.

The swimmer who finished second behind Ledecky in the 800m freestyle may have given people a case of deja vu. Fifteen year old Katie Grimes had the best showing of her young career at the most ideal of times, shaving 11 seconds off of her personal best time to post a 8:20:36 mark, finishing just a handful of seconds behind the 2016 800m gold medalist.

Katie Ledecky and Katie Grimes, collectively known as ‘Katie Squared,’ at the 800m freestyle ceremony.

At age 15, Grimes became the youngest person to make the U.S Olympic Swim Team since Katie Ledecky in 2012. Ledecky expressed great excitement at the opportunity to team up with a swimmer that reminds her so much of herself. The duo has adopted the nickname Katie Squared as they prepare to compete alongside each other in Tokyo.

Ledekey will look to become just the third woman to win an Olympic swimming event in three consecutive Games with a victory in Tokyo. For history truly does repeat itself, and for everything to come full circle it would be Grimes, not Ledecky, who would capture gold at this year’s Games. Stranger things have happened.

The U.S Olympic Trials will continue with Track and Field through June 27th. Gymnastics trials will begin on June 24th.

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