Her name is Simone too. Not Simone Biles, Simone Manuel. For the moment, she does not make the Olympic column like her compatriot gymnast, apparatus superstar who promised a new raid in Tokyo, but suddenly forfeit on the eve of the all-around. Exit Simone Biles, mental at half mast.
→ THE FACTS. Tokyo Olympics: gymnast Simone Biles forfeits all-around competition
Simone Manuel, she is there, to gold her reputation from this Friday July 30 in the 50m freestyle. The torments of her colleague, the swimmer knows. She has just experienced them. During the American qualifiers for the Games, last June.
Simone Manuel had to confirm once again her status as sprint queen. A formality for the champion revealed in Rio in 2016, imperial in the 100 m freestyle, the first black swimmer to offer herself Olympic gold in individual. At barely 20 years old, the promise of the future. And the future indeed smiles on her, the champion outrageously dominating the 2017 Worlds as well as those of 2019: 13 medals in total, including 9 of the most precious metal.
For Tokyo, everyone necessarily expects it at the highest. Except that his qualification on the 100m turns into a nightmare. She is only 9e. Blast. So she explains herself. “I want to share my story. ” And she tells. An overtraining syndrome, diagnosed three months earlier, and its consequences: anxiety attack, insomnia, depression. She is no longer Simone the Conqueror.
The reductive image of the “black swimmer”
“Adding a fifth year to focus on an Olympic deadline, it’s grueling, she emphasizes. Just like being a black person in the United States. We had a brutal year, which can also be mentally exhausting. “ She has been repeating it for a long time now: she no longer wants to be reduced to this image revealed in 2016: the “black swimmer”, the one that we constantly question on this identity theme. “I am not the voice of black America”, she has to repeat.
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The load is heavy. It relieves a little of it by missing its qualification. And three days later, she still manages to validate her ticket for the 50m freestyle. In Tokyo, she claims to get better. As proof: integrated at the last moment in the American 4 x 100 m relay, she ensured the bronze to her team. “I just need to have confidence in myself”, she swears. She rises to the surface. Message to the other Simone: it’s possible.