Photo Courtesy: Annie Grevers
By David Rieder.
The last time the Golden Goggles award show was held in Los Angeles, there was not all that much to celebrate aside from Katie Ledecky. The Americans had won just eight golds and 23 total medals at the 2015 World Championships, and Ledecky had been responsible for five of the eight golds.
This year, different story. American swimmers won a record-tying 38 total medals at the World Championships in Budapest, 18 of them gold. That made the voting standard for this year’s awards rather competitive.
Consider this: American teams won gold in seven out of eight relays in Budapest, including mixed events. There were five nominees for “Relay of the Year,” as opposed to the usual three.
Plenty of outstanding performances will get their due Sunday evening at the JW Marriott at LA Live—but who wins the awards? Here’s what we were thinking.
The nominees for each award are listed, with our choice for winner labeled in red.
Breakout Performer of the Year
Some good nominees here, but the choice seems pretty clear-cut.
Haas picked up his first international medal in an individual event this year, taking silver in the 200 free at Worlds, and he also turned himself into a key piece for the American men’s 400 free relay.
Cox and Galat both bounced back from near-misses at Olympic Trials to secure their spots on the team at U.S. Nationals—and then win surprising individual medals at World Championships. Cox was the bronze medalist in the 200 IM and Galat the runner-up in the 200 breast.
But how can this not go to Comerford? In 2017, she transformed herself from a semi-finalist in two events at Olympic Trials, seemingly a short course specialist, to one of the country’s top freestylers. She won five relay gold medals at Worlds—and provided key legs on the finals squads for four of those relays—while also finishing fourth in the 100 free. Comerford finished the year ranked No. 3 globally in the 100 free and No. 19 in the 200 free.
And it’s impossible to forget her effort at the NCAA championships, when she tied Katie Ledecky for a shocking national title in the 200 free.
With all due respect to the other three nominees, this award should belong to Comerford.
Twichell missed the Olympic team in 2016 and bounced back well enough to win the World title in the 5k at this year’s World Championships. The medal marked her first at a World Championships since 2011. But after the way Grevers bounced back this year, he gets our vote.
Devastated when he did not make the Olympic team, Grevers admitted that his career may very well have been over had he not made this year’s World Championships team. At 32 years old, Grevers doubted his own ability to bounce back after a third-place finish in his signature 100 back at Olympic Trials, his first major setback in six years.
Good thing he kept going because he very nearly won gold in the 100 back in Budapest. He ended up settling for a silver, but his time of 52.48 was his fastest in five years. He was a team captain on the Worlds team and also a contributor to golds in both the men’s and mixed medley relays.
When Grevers made the World Championships team on the fourth night of U.S. Nationals, it was clear how excited his teammates were to have him back on the plane with them to Budapest. But nothing can quite match up for how much it meant to Grevers, the winner of four Olympic gold medals in his career, to be back.
Coach of the Year
This one made for some interesting debate among Swimming World staff—Looze, Troy or Meehan?
Looze has Lilly King, the world’s dominant female breaststroker, plus two others who made this year’s Worlds team in Blake Pieroni, Cody Miller and Zane Grothe. And Looze has also turned the Indiana Hoosiers into perennial contenders in the college scene.
Troy led the Gators to a third-place finish at the men’s NCAA championships this year, but he’s nominated for the award for his impressive work with Caeleb Dressel—who, of course, won seven gold medals at the World Championships.
And Meehan led the Stanford women to an NCAA title this year and currently coaches Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal, Ella Eastin… and plenty of others.
In the toughest call on the list, our vote goes to Meehan.
Relay of the Year
Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay, 2017 FINA World Championships
Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay, 2017 FINA World Championships
Women’s 400 Medley Relay, 2017 FINA World Championships
Mixed 400 Freestyle Relay, 2017 FINA World Championships
Mixed 400 Medley Relay, 2017 FINA World Championships
All of the nominated relays won World titles this year, and three of them set world records. But records in single-gender relays carry more weight than those in the recently-conceived mixed events.
And the foursome of Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Kelsi Worrell and Simone Manuel broke a vaunted five-year-old record in the women’s 400 medley.
The previous mark had been set at the London Olympics, by an American team consisting of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt. All four of those women had won individual gold medals in the 100 or 200-meter event of their respective stroke at those Olympics.
In Rio, the team of Baker, King, Vollmer and Manuel had been a full second short of the world record. In a year, the three returners all swam at least a half-second faster each, while Worrell (56.30) split only three tenths off what Vollmer (56.00) had posted at the Olympics.
Oh, and the margin of victory was almost two seconds, the largest in a single-gender relay all week.
Female Performance of the Year
Lilly King, 50 Breast, 2017 FINA World Championships
Lilly King, 100 Breast, 2017 FINA World Championships
Katie Ledecky, 400 Free, 2017 FINA World Championships
Simone Manuel, 100 Free, 2017 FINA World Championships
Ashley Twichell, 5K Open Water, 2017 FINA World Championships
Of these five World title-winning performances, the nod goes to King here for the 100 breast. Sure, it was the only one of the five races that featured a world record in an Olympic event, but there’s more to consider.
King was an underdog here for the first time in her brief international career. Sure, she had gotten the better of Yulia Efimova in the 100 breast final in Rio, but Efimova had made big improvements and had missed the world record by just one hundredth in the semi-finals.
But in the final, Efimova froze on the blocks and spent the first 50 trying to catch up. It was too late. King, as she so often does, stepped up with the pressure on and delivered the best swim of her life. In 1:04.13, she crushed Ruta Meilutyte’s four-year-old world record and continued her unbeaten streak against her Russian rival in the sprint events.
Male Performance of the Year
Caeleb Dressel, 100 Free, 2017 FINA World Championships
Caeleb Dressel, 100 Fly, 2017 FINA World Championships
Chase Kalisz, 400 IM, 2017 FINA World Championships
No records to choose from in the male performance category, but Dressel came pretty darn close with his 49.86 in the 100 fly. The record in that event stands at 49.82, set by Michael Phelps back at the 2009 World Championships in a dual with Milorad Cavic.
At the height of the polyurethane suit controversy, Phelps was swimming in a now-banned full bodysuit, even if it was not the most advanced option on the market at the time. Dressel swam his race in a jammer, and he won by almost a second.
Joseph Schooling, the Olympic gold medalist in the event from one year earlier, was completely left in Dressel’s wake.
As dominant as he was in the 100 free two days earlier and as dominant as Kalisz was in the 400 IM one day later, Dressel’s 100 fly is the obvious choice here.
Female Athlete of the Year
Does this award go to the swimmer with the sensational efforts or the one who was superior in a larger range of events? In other words, King or Ledecky?
King broke world records this year in the 50 and 100 breast but was only fourth at the World Championships in the 200 breast, while Ledecky won golds in the 400, 800 and 1500 free at Worlds, along with a silver in the 200 free.
No, Ledecky didn’t break any world records in 2017, and her margins of victory were slightly smaller—but she’s still the best American swimmer out there and on a short list of the two or three best swimmers in the world.
And that’s just considering her freestyle. Ledecky broke an American record in the 400-yard IM this year and had the top in-season time of any American in the long course version of that race heading into U.S. Nationals. She’s built her chops as a freestyle specialist, but she’s no one-trick pony. When determining all-around best athlete, range should be important, too.
Male Athlete of the Year
Kalisz was great at Worlds, winning gold medals in both IMs, but this is a slam dunk.
Dressel won seven gold medals in Budapest, matching the all-time record set by—you guessed it—Michael Phelps.
Only counting individual events? Well, Dressel was the only man to win three gold medals at Worlds.
He also won big in all three of his individual events at the NCAA championships in March, and he established the fastest time in history in both the 100-yard fly and 100-yard free. This one should be unanimous.