Part of the Olympic experience for athletes these days are post-event interviews. Regardless of how they did, at least one American athlete is typically expected to walk up to an NBC interviewer as soon as their event is over — often when they're still massively out of breath or even dripping wet from the pool — and bare their souls on national television.
Swimmer Simone Manuel has done these interviews. And after watching them go on while she was in Tokyo this year, and even participating in a few, she'd like them to stop — especially after a disappointing performance.
Manuel, 25, knows those feelings all too well. She became the first Black woman to win an individual swimming gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, one of four medals she won, but her time at the Tokyo Olympics wasn't quite as successful. She won gold in the 100m freestyle in Rio, but failed to qualify for the event in Tokyo. She qualified for the 50m free, which she won silver in Rio, but her semifinal time wasn't good enough for her to make the final swim in Tokyo. She did have success, though, winning the bronze medal as part of the women's 4x100m freestyle relay.
No one can truly know what an athlete experienced leading up to their Olympic performance. It's typically just a painfully short snippet of time, sometimes as little as 10 seconds, that's the culmination of a long period of training that can often include numerous complications. That's true for Manuel, who had her training disrupted by COVID-19, and was then diagnosed with burnout (also known as overtraining) earlier this year, forcing her to take another break from her Olympic preparation.
“It’s hard to work so hard for something and not see the results pay off,” she said following her 50m semi, via the AP. “The swim I had was my best today, but it’s not representative of my potential.”
That's the kind of soundbite she doesn't want anyone to have to give while dripping wet, out of breath, emotions still stinging from the swim they had less than two minutes ago.
Manuel echoes Naomi Osaka, suggests solutions
Manuel continued posting her feelings about this topic on Twitter Friday morning, bringing up some of the same points that Naomi Osaka did several months ago: being forced to talk about a loss you just experienced is extremely difficult.
She's not proposing that the media never interview athletes after defeats, but she did make some suggestions that she believes would improve things for both athletes and journalists.
She pointed out that just because they're athletes doesn't mean that anyone, including the media, has a right to know what they're thinking and feeling, especially at such an emotional time.
Manuel ended by unapologetically asking the media — and everyone — for empathy and kindness during moments of public failure.
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