Our 2013 Swammy Award for United States Male Swimmer of the Year turned out to be a pretty easy one. For years now, USA Swimming has been dominated by two huge shadows, two stars who grab headlines and inspire conversation among swimmers and non-swimmers alike – Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
With one of them out of the picture (at least for now), the other has risen to even more extraordinary heights, and 2013 was his first full year as the face of American swimming.
Lochte accounted for 3 of the US’s 4 gold medals at the World Championships in Barcelona, winning the 200 back and 200 IM and coming within a second of his own world record in that 200 IM.
The iconic Lochte also delivered the tide-turning split on the United States’ gold medal-winning 800 free relay, going 1:44.98 to give the US a lead at the midway point that no one else could challenge. Lochte’s split was the fastest on the US relay and second-fastest of the entire field in an intense battle with three talented squads (Russia, China and France) breathing down the US’s neck the entire way.
Outside of the World Championships, Lochte was the winner of the 2012-2013 (mostly 2013) USA Swimming Grand Prix Series overall title for the men.
Of course, any discussion of Ryan Lochte’s newsworthiness can’t be confined only to what he’s done in the pool. Far from it – Lochte’s been in the news for a whole bizarre combination of things that perhaps no other pro athlete than Lochte could pull off.
He was in the news for helping create an argyle-pattern swim cap. He debuted and sponsored several new flavors of frozen yogurt. He had a brief stint in television with his reality TV series “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” on E!.
(To be fair, those first two were actually charity efforts to help fight Muscular Dystrophy through Lochte’s longtime partner charity Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy).
The awards were pretty typical for a Lochte year: Golden Goggles for Race of the Year and Athlete of the Year. 4th-hottest male athlete of the year according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ho-hum, another FINA Athlete of the Year award, his third time being voted best swimmer in the entire world. A pretty typical Ryan Lochte portfolio.
He also inspired some enthusiasm for the future with his decision to switch to SwimMAC in North Carolina for his training. Lochte’s always been known as a workout beast and middle-distance workhorse, but now things get interesting. What kind of sprinter can Lochte be? How will he respond to shorter, more quality-based training? How will he look on those all-professional relays SwimMAC has been putting together to chase American records? Will he look good enough in SwimMAC colors to crack the top 3 in hottest athletes of the year 2014 edition?
One thing Ryan Lochte does perhaps better than swim is give us something to talk about. Well, his club transfer will certainly gave us something to talk about in 2014.
(Side note: and seriously, who isn’t already salivating over a renewed Phelps-Lochte rivalry, only this time in sprints instead of the 400 IM? It’s like watching Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal except they both decide to play ping-pong instead of tennis!)
Of course, Lochte was in the news for the wrong reasons by the end of 2013, dealing with a pretty serious knee injury after a freak accident with an enthusiastic fan. However, the reigning FINA Male Athlete of the Year is already back in the pool and eyeing a full return to competition in time for the US Trials for World Championships and Pan-Pacs this summer.
All-in-all, 2013 was a pretty banner season for Lochte, but then again, what year isn’t the flashy celebrity making waves? He might fly under the radar some in his absence from competition, but no one should forget what 2013 taught us: Ryan Lochte is still the force to be reckoned with both in and out of the pool.
- Conor Dwyer – Dwyer made 2013 a statement year, serving notice to the world that he be an elite all-around threat like his former training partner Lochte. He put up a huge leadoff split on that 800 free relay at Worlds, hanging right with French star Yannick Agnel to give the rest of the American team a fighting chance. He also took home the silver medal in the 200 free behind only Agnel and finishing second at US Nationals in the 200 IM.
- Matt Grevers – Grevers was the other individual gold medalist for the US in Barcelona, winning the 100 back and dipping under the 53-second mark. After the retirement of longtime backstroke king Aaron Peirsol, Grevers has really stepped up his game, filling Peirsol’s shoes as the backstroker in a league of his own on the international level.
- Connor Jaeger – won three events at US Nationals in June, the 400, 800 and 1500 frees. He also set a US Open record in the 800 and took bronze in Barcelona in the 400.
- Michael McBroom – set an American record in the 800 free at Worlds, taking silver, and finished second in the 400, 800 and 1500 at Nationals.
- David Plummer – second behind Grevers in the 100 back at Barcelona after fighting through adversity in perhaps his best event, the 50 back, where he slipped off the blocks in semi-finals and missed the top 8. He was also US National champ in both the 50 and 100 backs and set a US Open record in the 50.