By Karen Rosen | July 28, 2017, 12 p.m. (ET)

Simone Manuel celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 100-meter freestyle at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships on July 28, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary. 

 

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Olympic champion Simone Manuel can thank her birth order for her competitiveness.

Manuel, the third child in her family, powered past world record holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden in the final strokes of the women’s 100-meter freestyle to win the gold medal at the FINA World Championships and reclaim her American record.

“I think it’s kind of been ingrained in me with my two older brothers, and just always wanting to keep up with somebody,” said Manuel, who was nearly half a second behind Sjostrom at the turn. “I think that’s the case now. I just want to win and I’ve been training to do that this whole time.”

Manuel, the reigning Olympic co-gold medalist, clocked 52.27 seconds to edge Sjostrom, who touched the wall in 52.31. Pernille Blume of Denmark was third (52.69) followed by U.S. champion and previous American record holder Mallory Comerford (52.77), who broke Manuel's mark on Sunday.

Manuel was the first Team USA swimmer to win the women’s 100 free since Jenny Thompson in 1998 -- and that was especially ancient history to the 20-year-old sprinter.

“I was 2 at the time,” she said.

The only other American to win the 100 free was Nicole Haislett in 1991.

“It’s great to bring American sprinting to its forefront along with Mallory and others we have behind that are really amazing swimmers,” Manuel said, “and we’re trying to make a statement as sprinters.”

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Sjostrom had seemed like a sure thing based on her performances this week at the Danube Arena. She broke the world record in event as the lead off swimmer on the 4 x 100-meter medley relay, posting a time of 51.71.

Manuel, whose fastest time going into Friday night’s race was 52.69, trailed Sjostrom at the 50-meter mark by a significant margin in such a short race – 24.75 to 25.21 -- but then turned it on as she came off the wall.

“I always think I have a shot,” Manuel said. “I think that’s the reason why I’m the swimmer that I am. I just know how to race and I try to get my hand on the wall first. I just had confidence in the training that I had done and my performance going into the race.”

This was Manuel’s first individual gold medal in her three world championships and her third gold in Budapest. She also reached the top of the podium by swimming legs on the winning 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay and mixed 4 x 100-meter medley relay.

Manuel tied Penny Okeksiak of Canada for the gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. On Friday, Oleksiak finished sixth in 52.94, while defending champion Bronte Campbell was seventh (53.18).

“I think my path with swimming has just been progress forward and dropping times and trying to get better as a swimmer and it happened at the right time and I’m really happy with that and really hoping that trend can continue on for my swimming career.”

Manuel still the 50 free in which she won the Olympic silver medal behind Blume.

As a measure of how difficult it is to stay on top of the world in this event, only three other athletes have won the 100 free as reigning Olympic champions. They are Britta Steffen of Germany (2009), Jodie Henry of Australia (2004) and Inge De Bruijn of the Netherlands (2001).

“My approach was just to go out there and race, and I did just that,” Manuel said. “I’m really happy with the time. It was a best time for me, so I’m really happy.”

It was a fast night in freestyle for Team USA. Caeleb Dressel smashed the American record in the men’s 50 free with a time of 21.29 in the semifinals. The previous record of 21.37 was held by teammate Nathan Adrian, who came in at 21.83 and did not qualify for the final.

Thirty minutes later, Dressel was back on the blocks for the semifinals in men’s 100 butterfly. He was again the leading qualifier with a personal best of 50.07 seconds, chopping .01 off his previous best of 50.08 which he swam in the morning prelims.

He’ll have slightly more time on Saturday night. “Those extra five minutes mean a lot,” he said. “I’m fine with it, though. It really didn’t hurt that bad. There’s still some left.”