Gators at Olympics: Taylor Manson balances school, Olympic glory on her way to Tokyo

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Taylor Manson reacts after the women's 400-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 18, 2021, in Eugene, Ore.

Many collegiate athletes find barely enough time for school and athletics.

Taylor Manson is one of those athletes, and this summer, she added a third item to her large plate:

Competing for a spot in the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo.

Just one week after the NCAA Championships ended, Manson remained in Eugene, Oregon, and vied for an Olympic spot.

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The Gators track star could’ve named many excuses if she came up short in the trials. However, the senior delivered a masterpiece in the record-breaking heat.

Manson finished seventh in the 400 meters with a personal best (50.79), the third best event time in school history.

While she barely missed the cut for the 400m, she grasped her Olympic dreams by earning a spot on the 4x400 meter relay pool.

Immediately after running, Manson was unsure of her fate.

“I placed seventh, and I know they usually take the top six,” she said. “But, five minutes after I ran, two of the coaches came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations, we’re taking you to Tokyo.’”

Manson said staying focused mentally was the toughest challenge the quick turnaround brought.

“Physically, I am in the best shape of my life, so I knew it wouldn’t tire me out,” she said. “But it’s tough to stay focused and not think too much about who you are running against because that could get into your head.”

Manson said she gained added motivation reading pundits who predicted she’d miss the finals all together.

“I always expected to make the team,” she said. “A lot of people expect collegiate athletes to be tired by that time, as opposed to the professionals, who are more fresh.”

Manson acknowledged the year-long postponement of the games helped her and provided her more certainty regarding her times.

“I don’t know what my indoor times would have been in 2020 since we didn’t have an outdoor season,” she said. “I feel like this year I’m a lot stronger though and more confident this year.”

Florida coach Mike Holloway worked closely with Manson all season and now, as the coach of the U.S. Men’s Track and Field team, will travel to Tokyo alongside her.

Holloway said Manson struggled in February and March’s indoor season but redeemed herself for the spring season.

“We trusted each other, her training was good, and she was right when she needed to be,” he said. “Now, she’s an Olympian, and I couldn’t be more excited for her.”

Manson said Florida’s coaches and doctors put her in the right place, physically and mentally.

“Staying on top of my mental health is a big thing for me, and speaking to the sports psychologist has helped me,” she said. “If we’ve had a rough practice, the coaches are always there for us.”

Due to COVID-19, these games will be more abnormal than the usual, but Manson said Holloway's presence causes it to feel more ordinary.

In addition, Manson said her participation in events like the NCAA and SEC Championships make her more relaxed once the games begin.

“Being in the SEC is always very competitive for track, it prepares you for the pressure and the competition,” she said. “So, when you go to other meets or Olympic Trials, you are used to it.”

While her confidence level ranks high, Manson knows she needs to take in the moment as well.

“In 2018, I competed in Under 20 World Juniors, so I feel like the Olympics will be like that, times 10,” she said. “It’s an experience like no other. I am just ready to take it day-by-day.”

Round one of the women’s 4x400 relay begins Aug. 5 from the Japan National Stadium, with the finals on Aug. 7.