|Simone Manuel looks on after the women's 50-meter freestyle finals
at the 2013 USA Swimming Phillips 66 National Championships
and World Championship Trials at the Indiana University Natatorium
on June 29, 2013 in Indianapolis.
Simone Manuel considers the 100-meter freestyle to be her best event.
So when the 16-year-old swimmer from Sugar Land, Texas, broke the 15-16 age group record for the 50-meter freestyle at 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships and World Championship Trials on June 29, it was a little bit of a surprise.
Clocking in at 25.06 seconds, in the preliminaries, Manuel smashed Missy Franklin’s mark of 25.26 set in 2011. Manuel, whose previous top time in the event was 25.45, nearly cracked the top-10 best times in the world. Not to mention that the record was held by Franklin, a four-time Olympic gold medalist last summer in London.
“At first, I actually didn’t know I broke the record,” Manuel said. “I was just excited about making finals at first and then after I knew I broke the record, it was just a matter of doing the best I could that night to make the team."
In the finals for the 50, Manuel clocked in at 25.01 seconds, to finish runner-up to Natalie Coughlin (24.97) — a 12-time Olympic medalist.
Manuel also finished third in the 100, in a field that featured none other than Franklin (the event winner) as well as veterans such as Coughlin, Jessica Hardy and Elizabeth Pelton. Her swims at nationals earned her a spot on the U.S. team that will compete in the 15th FINA World Championships July 19-Aug. 4 in Barcelona, Spain. Manuel’s performance in the 100 qualified her to be a member of the 4x100 freestyle relay team.
“I think it just shows I have a lot of potential,” Manuel said. “It’s assurance that I can do the 50 and not just the 100."
Now she will get a chance to show that potential to the world.
Manuel, who attends Fort Bend Austin High School but competes for the First Colony swim team, was shocked by her time in the 50. After she dove into the pool, she looked out from the corner of her eye and realized she was already behind the lead pack. She had to kick it into another gear.
“She made a comment after her 50 that she took a breath and saw people were ahead of her and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go,’” First Colony coach Allison Beebe said. “She didn’t panic."
Manuel was thrilled to qualify for the world championships. She’s competed in large-scale international events in the past, including the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, 2011 FINA Junior World Championships and 2012 Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships (she was a gold medalist in the 100 freestyle), but worlds will be a step up in competition.
“I think this is a great opportunity to represent my country,” Manuel said. “Not many people get to do that and it’s such an honor to be able to do something I love for a great country I live in."
Manuel hopes to swim faster at worlds than she did during nationals trials — however, it could be difficult to shatter another record — and she’s looking forward to swimming against international competitors whom she might not have faced in past events.
“I’m just so excited for the learning experience,” Manuel said. “I think I’m just going to have so much fun meeting these great swimmers on the USA team and these obviously great coaches and staff."
Beebe knows Manuel is a swimmer who always steps up to the challenge and competes at the highest level in big meets.
“She loves to race,” Beebe said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the best person in the world or her older brother, she’s a tough competitor. I think she’s going to learn a lot. She’s going to make a lot of good friends that are going to help her throughout her career."
Beebe has coached Manuel for nearly six years and has watched Manuel’s steady progression to stardom in the pool. Beebe said Manuel has utilized her athletic gifts, and her mental and physical drive is off the charts.
“She’s fantastic at setting a pretty high goal, whether it’s qualifying for a meet or team,” Beebe said. “When she gets to that goal and makes it, she doesn’t settle. It’s immediately, ‘OK, what do I need to do next to keep moving.’ That’s been very critical in her swimming, not ever getting satisfied meeting that goal."
Hard work is also part of it.
“I know that I work hard so seeing these results is kind of just satisfaction to how hard I’ve been training and how much that my coaches and teammates and parents and family and friends have helped me throughout this process,” Manuel said. “It’s gratifying to see it, but I obviously have more work to do and I want to get better, so I can’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m happy with what I’m doing.'"
If Manuel continues to work hard, she could be a household name and the future of U.S. swimming for years to come.
“I’m kind of just going with the punches and doing everything that I can to do the best I can do,” Manuel said. “I don’t take on the title, ‘I’m USA’s rising star.’ I am about reaching new levels in my swimming career.”