By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Simone Manuel showed signs that she would one day be one of the world’s top sprinters her second day in the pool.
After her mom, Sharron, enrolled her in swimming lessons as a 4-year-old, by the second day of her lessons, Simone was already swimming across the pool largely unassisted and leaving the other kids in the kiddie pool.
“I remember asking her coaches if that was normal for someone her age, and they said no,” Sharron said. “I couldn’t have imagined at the time that she would reach the levels she has, but that was a definite sign of her talent, especially at such a young age.”
By age 5, Manuel was swimming summer league with a club in her hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, and by 9, she joined USA Swimming. Within a few years, she was swimming with the U.S. Junior National Team, and she made time cuts for her first Olympic Trials in 2012.
Following a strong but somewhat overwhelming meet in Omaha – where she failed to reach the semifinals in either of her sprint events – Manuel said she took a long look at where she was with her swimming and decided to step up her game.
It’s what she wanted – not mom and dad or her coach or her friends. It’s a decision she made on her own, and it’s paying off big-time.
“I learned a lot about myself at Olympic Trials after watching some of the more veteran swimmers,” said Manuel, a member of First Colony Swim Team. “I wasn’t very happy with my performance, and I reflected upon on the experience.
“I knew I needed to make some changes if I wanted to swim at that same level. From that point forward, my outlook and attitude were completely different.”
The results speak for themselves. Last summer at the Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships, where the 2013 U.S. World Championship Team was selected, Manuel outswam her competition once again, earning a spot on the team in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
At World Championships in Barcelona – her first senior-level international meet – she swam the fastest time among U.S. women in the 50 free (making the finals) and helped the United States win gold by swimming a leg in preliminaries on the 400 freestyle relay.
So what does it mean to Manuel to be the fastest female swimmer in the nation? To her, it’s not something she thinks about too much.
She prefers to focus on the fact that she still has room for continued improvement and wants only to get better and faster to help the United States women break through the sprint medal barriers at international meets in the near future.
“I will continue to push myself to my limits more in order to keep getting faster so I can help the United States get back to sprint freestyle prominence,” said Manuel, who admits she loved the water as far back as bath time as a baby. “Part of my improvement is just getting more and more comfortable at big meets, and I think I am doing that with each meet.
“World Championship Trials and then World Championships showed me that I am doing just that. I was much more comfortable than I was at Trials, and now I feel when I go to a big meet, I know what to expect from myself and the meet. I got in expecting to make the team or the final or win a medal. My confidence is much higher.”
A high school senior, Manuel said she is excited for the finish of her final year and has already signed on to swim at Stanford University this fall. Before that, she will compete at a few Grand Prix meets this spring and summer before going to nationals to swim to earn a spot on the U.S. Pan Pacific Championships team.
Whatever happens, she said she knows she is on the right path to being a strong force to make her first Olympic Team back in Omaha in two years.
She knows swimming at Stanford with Greg Meehan will help her get there.
“I felt so comfortable with the coaches and members of the team on my visit that I knew Stanford was the right fit for me,” said Manuel, whose older brother, Ryan, is a starting guard on the nationally-ranked Southern Methodist (SMU) basketball team.
“I know working with Greg and his staff will help me reach the levels I want to and know I can. I’m really excited for the future in school and in swimming.”