The 2013 SwimSwam Person of the Year is 64-year old open water swimmer Diana Nyad.
This particular Swammy award is not one that specifies ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Much in the mold of Time Magazine, we instead look at who was the biggest news-maker in swimming over the course of 2013, be it for something good or something bad.
To us, it was hard to ignore that Nyad’s Cuba-to-Florida swim from early September for this category. The swim took 53 hours, and caught the attention of the entire nation and entire world, and not just the swimmers.
Nyad’s swim was not un-controversial. In fact, the controversy was part of what took a monumental news story and made it even bigger. The Cuba-to-Florida journey is iconicized through people like Elian Gonzalez, who make the journey on make-shift rafts and barely survive. Nyad, meanwhile, did so while swimming under her own power, and that was perhaps too good for many to believe.
Questions arose over the validity of the equipment used during Nyad’s swim; whether or not the suit she wore counted; whether or not she was supported by doctors; whether or not the information from her tracking equipment makes sense; whether or not her observer was neutral enough; and some more recent questions about pictures on Nyad’s Facebook page about her touching a boat. The evidence and arguments on both sides are rather convincing, and whenever money’s in play, the motive exists.
It has caused some groups to try to create standard rules for swims (as, really, there’s no authority on ‘what counts’ from a Cuba-to-Florida swim). It caused CNN to run a follow-up round-table discussion on the matter. It created questions over whether or not a personal profit was to be gained, and if that was enough to cause Nyad to fudge the rules. It created rifts in swimming. It created unity in swimming. It brought new people to the sport, and inspired people to try new things.
All-in-all, if there’s one moment that will survive 2013, 2014, 2020, 2025 from this year, it was Nyad’s swim.
- Michael Andrew – He became the youngest professional swimmer in American history earlier this year, and has broken tons of records. His legacy is yet to be written, unlike Nyad’s, but Michael Andrew could have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on the sport both from a training perspective with Brent Rushall’s USRPT, and from an economic perspective.
- Ryan Lochte – Starting with reality TV, and ending with a bang (literally in a knee injury), and with three World Championships in the middle, Lochte became a global brand in 2013 that reached well outside of the world of swimming.
- Rick Curl – This one would go in the “Dishonorable Mention” category, as he was on the tips of everyone’s tongue for all the wrong reasons. After years of denial within the sport, however, Rick Curl dominated the news in the first half of the year, and was finally being sentenced to 7 years in prison.
- Whitney Lopus – This one didn’t have the same judicial ending as Curl’s, but when Curl’s story wrapped up, that of Lopus and her former coach Greg Winslow got hotter. Officials in Maricopa County wound up not filing charges against Winslow, but the impact of the case was far-reaching. Utah got a new coach, who has done very well in his short time there and maybe changed the future fortunes of that program. The Utah Athletics Department has been under a microscope for their handling of the case (Winslow had a laundry list of accusations against him by members of the swim team), Sun Devil Aquatics, the team at which he had allegedly abused the former National Teamer Lopus, ceased to exist, and Jill Chasson, wife of Sun Devil Aquatics owner Mike Chasson, stepped down from her position as Chair of the National Board of Review for the SafeSport program (though, that was not explicitly tied to the Winslow case). This case went down so many different paths and angles, and it was all started by Lopus’ report.