Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel is opening up about her new training mindset following the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Like many Olympic athletes, Manuel, 23, was preparing for the upcoming Summer Games when the cancellation news was announced in late March, moving the Games to July 23 through Aug. 8, 2021.
"Just hearing the news … it definitely was bittersweet," Manuel tells PEOPLE. "I think we all expected it and knew it was coming and it was hard to hear. But we knew that it was the best decision for the safety of everyone."
Noting one positive outcome, she says, "It has allowed me to refocus kind of, because we had a new date in 2021 and just continue to work hard because the work doesn't stop."
Manuel, who has been social distancing and training in California amid the pandemic, continues on to explain how the Olympics postponement has pushed her.
"It switched my training mindset to really spend time focusing on technical aspects of my swimming that I know needed improvement … and now I have extra time to improve on some of my weaknesses. But I think just beyond that, it allows me a chance to set higher goals for myself," the swimmer explains. "I have an extra year—why not kind of push the limit and see if I can get to these lofty goals that I have for myself?"
The star athlete says she's kept up with her training "in a local backyard pool" with USA teammate Katie Ledecky and their coach.
"[Katie] stayed in California and we've been training together during this time. It's been really nice to be able to practice with her," Manuel says. "If I went home, I'd be going back to Texas and I think my parents just want to continue to get all the information we can so that we're making the best decision for the health of myself, but also for my family."
The Texas native also noted that working alongside Ledecky for the BIC campaign was just another "awesome" perk.
"I'm proud to partner with BIC and my teammate, Simone, to discuss how important it is that women have confidence in themselves and not be afraid to show it," Ledecky, 23, said of Manuel in a recent press release. "There's no telling how many people we can inspire through our actions; whether competing for medals on a global stage or conquering our everyday responsibilities at work or at home."
Following the news of the Olympics cancellation, the Tokyo 2020 president recently shared that the Olympics could be outright canceled if the virus persists, CNN reported.
"The Olympics were canceled in the past for problems like war. We are fighting against an invisible enemy now," Yoshiro Mori, the Tokyo 2020 president, said in an interview with Nikkan Sports.
When asked if the Games would go through another postponement if COVID-19 is still an ongoing issue, Mori said, "No. It will be canceled then."
However, Mori noted that organizers of the Games are already working toward next year's competition.
"The Olympics would be much more valuable than any Olympics in the past if we could go ahead with them after winning this battle," he said. "We have to believe this, otherwise our hard work and efforts will not be rewarded."
But whether or not the Games are on for next summer, Manuel will be ready.
"I definitely do feel like I am better than I was before … I want to win several gold medals in 2021," Manuel says. "I also would like to just swim faster than I ever have before. And I know that I can do that. That's where my goals lie for next year."
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