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U.S. Athletes Competing In Olympic Trials For A Shot At Tokyo

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Despite the continued uncertainty surrounding this summer's Tokyo Olympics due to COVID, there are signs that the games will begin next month. One of the strongest indications - U.S. athletes are taking part in the Olympic and Paralympic trials for the right to compete in Tokyo. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now with an update.

Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so trials in some sports wrapped up over the weekend, and I want to start with those. U.S.A. swimming finished up in Omaha, Neb., last night. And I understand that there was a pretty dramatic moment involving one of the stars of the 2016 games.

GOLDMAN: There sure was, Ailsa. Five years ago, Simone Manuel became the first African American woman to win an individual swimming gold medal. She won the 100-meter freestyle. Now, she failed to qualify in the 100 in Omaha. It was a very tough loss for her.

CHANG: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And she revealed she'd been dealing with something called overtraining syndrome. She had physical symptoms and dealt with insomnia and depression. She said the pandemic might have contributed. Remember; when the games were postponed last year, it added a fifth year of training to what's usually a four-year cycle. So she had one more chance last night to make the Olympic team - the 50-meter freestyle. And she won that all-out sprint by one hundredth of a second, and she was incredibly emotional in the pool after winning. In a press conference, she explained her reaction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONE MANUEL: It kind of was just a mix of a lot of emotions and what I've been through really in my entire swimming career. It's not just the last couple of weeks but just from, you know, being a young Black girl and not knowing if the sport of swimming was for me. And continuing on this path is just a part of my faith walk.

CHANG: Part of her faith walk - that is so moving to hear. Well, the U.S. usually does do really well in swimming at the Olympics. Can you just tell us about some of the other athletes we may be hearing about in Tokyo?

GOLDMAN: Well, you will be hearing about the amazing Katie Ledecky, of course - a veteran but still only 24. She's expected to add to her five Olympic gold medals. She won four events in Omaha. Another Katie, Katie Grimes - 11 teenagers made this team, and Grimes was the youngest at 15. She finished second to Ledecky in the 800-meter freestyle. She's going to Tokyo. And then on the men's side, this is the first trials and will be the first Olympic Games since 2000 when Michael Phelps wasn't in the pool.

CHANG: Wow.

GOLDMAN: Caeleb Dressel is being touted as the one to start filling the enormous Phelps void. Dressel won three races in Omaha and could compete in at least six events in Tokyo, individual races and relays.

CHANG: All right. That is swimming. Meanwhile, the track and field trials are going on in Eugene, Ore., which I didn't know has been nicknamed Track Town, U.S.A.

GOLDMAN: You betcha (ph).

CHANG: What's been happening there?

GOLDMAN: A lot, including nine-time Olympic medal-winning runner Allyson Felix qualifying for her fifth Olympics. Garrett Scantling won the 10-event decathlon. That's a cool event that determines the best overall athlete. They run. They jump. They throw. And speaking of throwing, shotputter Ryan Krauser, the defending Olympic gold medal winner, looks very good again. He broke the world record in the shot the first night of the trials.

CHANG: And we should note that the delayed Paralympics will get underway in late August. And there was a big trials event this past weekend, right?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there was, Ailsa. And it was notable that for the first time, NBC covered what's called the Super Trials, combining Paralympic swimming, track and field and cycling. It happened in Minneapolis. And the coverage, some of it in prime time, is an indication the Paralympics are becoming a respected competition of their own.

CHANG: That is NPR's Tom Goldman.

Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIRD'S "KEEP YOU HIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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