By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Simone Manuel made 2013 count, from the Phillips 66 National Championships through Barcelona, all the way to the last relay at the Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool, where her relay work garnered a lot of attention for the standout teen from Sugar Land, Texas. The Stanford-bound sprinter talks about what she’s learned in the past couple of years, and how she hopes to use it in the future, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. So 2013 turned out all right for you?
Simone: I guess the year was just kind of a surprise in a way. But at the same time I expected to do well. I was determined from 2012 – I had a lot of setbacks in 2012 – to do better; I wasn’t very pleased with my performance at Olympic Trials. I thought I could do better. After that year, I was able to reflect and see what I could work on in my swimming. I was really determined to make the World team.
2. But 2012 on the whole, and that experience, was not a complete loss, was it?
Simone: No, definitely not. Being with any of the swimmers at that level, seeing how they interact with you, how they train, the thought processes they use at those meets, will help me, though we all have our own approaches in a lot of ways.
3. Barcelona and Scotland, not a bad year of road trips?
Simone: That’s one of the many special things about swimming, the travel. I always like the aspect of seeing parts of a country. We didn’t get to see a lot of Barcelona, but we did get to go a few places. We were just walking the streets and having a lot of fun being in a different country with such beauty and history.
4. So now you are a 50 and 100 freestyler?
Simone: Actually, making the team in the 50 was definitely a surprise because I felt like the best chance I had was to make the team in the 100 free. People have talked about the 50 free, and how that is usually a race for the older swimmers because experience is so important in a race like that, but I am definitely planning to improve in the 50 and see what I can do. Sprinting is exciting for me.
5. The veterans have such great things to say about you, what have they been like as mentors?
Simone: I have been learning from Natalie Coughlin, and how she races, especially with her starts. Amanda Weir in the 100 free is another great sprinter with all of her records, so I am learning from the best. I don’t feel like I have much experience with the 50 and 100, so I can learn a lot from them, and I know technically there are a lot of things I need to improve on – where I can get faster.
6. What about your club team in Texas?
Simone: First Colony really supports me a lot. They opened up to me when I moved to the team, and have broadened my horizons with how I look at swimming. Most importantly, Coach Allison (Beebe) always tells me to enjoy the journey. Everything that I have been through has been a process. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it rewarding – the journey, not just the end result. Taking a step, working at getting better each day, and learning about your swimming or about yourself, that is what is most rewarding.
7. You mentioned some disappointment in 2012, what were your expectations going in?
Simone: I thought I would do better than what I did. I think I had two best times out of the three events, but to be 17th in the 100 free was not what I was hoping for; I definitely thought I would make semifinals in that event.
8. What was Trials like and how valuable is having that experience?
Simone: I had to learn how to be in that environment. I had been to several Junior National meets and the Arena Grand Prix Series, so I thought I had prepared for the high pressure, but there is nothing like that, nothing even close. You can’t know what that is like until you are in a stadium, stands full all around you, the deck is clear, there is no coach out there, and even things like being at your event 15 minutes early. That was a new situation for me. But it’s the same way for everyone, and you have to do the best you can. That taught me a lot about how to prepare for the event.
9. You mean the ones who made the 2012 team?
Simone: Yes, and you could see the difference in the ones who had made the team before. During the semifinals and finals, I was able to watch the people who made the team, and learn from them. I knew watching them that they were doing something right to make the team, so I had to learn from that.
10. What was something in particular that surprised you watching them?
Simone: Watching them walk out for finals, they don’t look nervous at all. I was more just in shock. Usually I don’t get nervous, but this was something unique. Like I said though, it was a great experience to learn and get better.
11. You are so articulate and well spoken, do you have a lot of experience with interviews?
Simone: I don’t think I am very comfortable with the media yet; sometimes I feel like my mind is thinking one thing and my mouth (laughs) is saying another! But after a while, as I get more practice at it, that will help me. I would argue I’m probably not the most articulate person in these things.
12. We can disagree, you are tremendous. Speaking of young, smart, talented swimmers, Katie Ledecky is also very well spoken. Why do so many young swimmers seem so smart and articulate at such a young age?
Simone: I think at this age, a lot of it is something you get from your family. Katie Ledecky is such an incredible person. Katie was my roommate for World Championships and Duel in the Pool, and before that, our parents had met and talked to each other, which was really great. They got along well, and so did Katie and I.
13. Is Katie fun to practice with?
Simone: It’s (laughs) different! At the training camp for World Championships, I practiced with her one day because I felt like I needed an aerobic workout – I am not like the typical sprinter who does mostly sprint work. I had to modify some things. I just enjoy watching other people and how they train. Seeing her go get world records and amazing time, or seeing Missy do such amazing things – you see their work ethic and the skill level they practice with, and it makes sense, from all that hard work and how well they go about it, that’s what makes them so successful.
14. I understand you developed a very unique interest and passion growing up in another activity, what was that?
Simone: Ballet, I really enjoyed ballet. I was doing ballet and swimming. At first, when it came time to pick one, I decided I was going to do just ballet. My mother said, “You can do both, you know, if you would like, it is up to you.” So I did that for another year, and at that point, I chose to pursue swimming. I really liked swimming by then. Besides, my parents say that I was born to be in the water since I was born with water in my lungs?
15. No kidding?
Simone: Yes, when I was born. I think my Dad was pretty scared – my Dad is kind of a (laughs) nervous person for us (she and her brothers). My Mom is the calm one.
16. So ballet, did that help with swimming, and what do you do outside of swimming now?
Simone: It helped with flexibility, core and using your muscles – it made me not just “go through the motions,” you know instead of just using my arms instead of the shoulder and abs to pull. As far as the experience of dancing, it probably helped in terms of the confidence you have with performance. I was advanced for my age, but since I was younger I had to perform with the same age group. But I was able to do some really neat things, and I do think being on stage and not being nervous helped with my confidence and being in front of people. With my swim schedule and school, it was kind of hard to continue dancing, but I am definitely glad my parents supported me and that I had that experience. To cool off and relax, I like to watch movies a lot. I can do that all day; romantic comedies are my favorite. I listen to a lot of music before swimming as well.
17. Did you see a lot of Glasgow during Duel in the Pool?
Simone: The people were really friendly and the architecture was just beautiful. Actually, though, I had some final exams I had to take – Anatomy, physiology and English – so (World teammate) Megan Romano served as proctor for my exams.
18. You take school very seriously, and have signed with Stanford – what does that mean to you?
Simone: When I was younger and people would ask me where I wanted to go to college, I would always say Stanford. Of course then I was naïve and innocent, and just heard what a great school it was, and that it was in California. I wanted a very good academic and athletic school, not just one or the other – I wanted both. I felt Stanford fit both of those perfectly.
19. You have music with you a lot?
Simone: Actually, most of the time I just listen to music when I am washing the dishes. Usually, my Mom does the dishes on the nights I have morning practice so I can do my homework and get to bed as soon as I can. But there’s only three of us in the house now (since both older brothers are off at college), so we have to divide the work among a smaller group.
20. You mentioned the experience from 2012 – do you feel like part of the incredible successes you had in 2013 came from that?
Simone: It really did. I didn’t feel much pressure at (World team) trials, or even at the meet. It was more, “Do your best, you have nothing to lose.” In Barcelona, I had already made the team, and the biggest amount of pressure for us (the U.S. team) is making the team at trials; we have a stacked field and a lot of talent. But once you get to the meet, you just rely on your training, and you go for it. You also get the inspiration and motivation of representing your country, which is an incredible feeling of pride.