To see all of the 2014 Swammy Award winners, presented by TYR, click here.
2014 HONOREE: KATIE LEDECKY
When thinking about the top female performers in the United States, there’s one name that rises to the top of the list no matter which way you look at it: Katie Ledecky.
Ledecky had an incredible season and demonstrated that she’s the most dominant swimmer in the United States at this very moment. Not only is Ledecky one of the thriving forces on the American team, she’s arguably the best swimmer in the world. Since Ledecky is in careful consideration for female swimmer of the year, this article will focus on what makes her the best in specific relation to the United States.
To begin, no other American swimmer male or female set a world record during the 2014 year excluding the mixed 4x50m medley relay world record set at the Short Course World Championships (which isn’t even a world best).
In comparison, Ledecky broke the world record in a total of three events and broke the record in two of those twice each.
She started her world record spree in June at the Woodlands Invitational, not a meet many suspected would feature a world record performance. Many of the best swimmers in the world at that time were at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, however Ledecky shone by herself at the Texas meet.
There, Ledecky broke two world records: the 800m freestyle and the 1500m freestyle. In the 800, she swam a 8:11.00 to break the previous record, her own from the 2013 World Championships, by 2.86 seconds. In the 1500m freestyle she dropped almost two seconds off her own record sporting a 15:34.23. One of the most impressive aspects of her performances was the fact that she had other events on the same days. She swam both medleys, the 200 freestyle, the 100 freestyle, and was an adamant part of the NCAP relays.
Just based off her swims in June alone, she has great reasoning to be one of the top candidates for the American swimmer of the year.
Although at an international level it seems as though world records can be the be all end all in determining who had a better season, Ledecky swam incredibly at multiple different levels of competition. She was a junior in high school during the first eight months of 2014, and therefore competed in high school swimming.
At the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships in February, Ledecky broke an American record in the 500 yard freestyle. She swam a 4:28.71 to break the previous record, then backed up that performance with a 4:34.01 in finals to take home a win. She also won the 200 free in 1:42.38 and was an important member of her school’s relays.
Moving up from high school racing, Ledecky swam very well on the grand prix circuit. She competed in two grand prix events as opposed to the four or five most swimmers swam, and still managed to come eighth overall in the points total. Ledecky finished with 28 points which she earned in nine finals appearances. Not including the point-total winner Katinka Hosszu who is known for swimming a very large program, every swimmer in the top eight had swam at at least three grand prix events.
The closest swimmer to her that only swam two events, again not including Hosszu, was Alia Atkinson of Jamaica who earned 16 points to finish 12th overall. Although ‘ifs’ are not a factor in sport, if Ledecky had swam at another grand prix event she would have likely earned enough points to finish ahead of all other American competitors and finish second behind Hosszu.
She swam world record times in June when the Santa Clara Grand Prix was going on, so there’s viable data to make an inference that she would have won at least a few events there to top all other American competitors.
Ledecky swam at the Austin Grand Prix in January where she finished first in the 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle. The 400 was a very impressive time of 4:04.46 and the 800 was a8:26.70. She also placed second in the 200 freestyle with a 1:57.76.
Her other medal performances came at the Mesa Grand Prix where she put up some very fast swims including a 8:20.10 800 freestyle and a 4:03.84 400 freestyle. She also won the 200 freestyle in 1:56.27 showing that she heading on a very solid path towards nationals in August.
Ledecky had success in high-school, and at the grand prix series, but she was also the most successful athlete at US Nationals in early August. There were five female performers who won multiple national titles including Ledecky, however she was the only one to win three. Out of the five male athletes who earned multiple national titles, none of them earned more than two either.
Ledecky won the 200m freestyle over Missy Franklin giving her even more of precedence to be the US female athlete of the year. That win also made her one of the most valuable assets on the American 4x200m freestyle relay. She won the 400m freestyle in 3:58.86 and absolutely obliterated her competition en route to a new world record. No swimmer at nationals was within five seconds of her in the event.
She also swam the 100m and 800m freestyle. Being a distance swimmer, her 100 is not her forté, however she still finished 13th in prelims with a personal best of 54.96. She made the consolation final, however she chose not to swim it.
In the 800m freestyle she won the event touching 6.22 seconds over Cierra Runge, arguably one of the best up-and-coming distance swimmers in the world. The most impressive part was that she was able to create such a large gap between herself and Runge despite adding seven and a half seconds on her personal best time. She also lapped 18 out of the 61 women to swim the event.
She swam well at short course nationals this December as well, taking home three national titles as well as a silver and a bronze. She won the 200 free, the 500 free, and the 1650 free. She won the 1650 in a new American record of 15:13.30 where she beat second place finisher Gillian Ryan by a whopping 41 seconds. To put that in perspective, she lapped the runner-up in the event.
Internationally, Ledecky was also the most successful American swimmer. Ledecky came home from the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia with five golds, four of which were individual golds. The rest of the women’s team combined had the same number of individual golds as Ledecky did.
Ledecky swam the same schedule as she did at the US Nationals with the addition of the 1500 and the 4x200m freestyle relay. She finished 13th in the 100 freestyle with a 55.25, first in the 200 freestyle with a 1:55.74, and then rocked three amazing performances in the 400, 800, and 1500.
The 400 was a new world record and once again she made the rest of her competitors look like they were sitting still. She was a 3:58.37 to break her own world record from nationals and beat second place finisher Cierra Runge by over six seconds.
She tore into her competitors in the 800m freestyle taking control of the race right from the get-go to swim a 8:11.35 and just narrowly miss her world record time from June. Her closet competitor in that race was seven and a half seconds behind her; the closest American was 11 seconds behind.
The 1500m freestyle was arguably her best event of the meet and once again she showed her dominance over the rest of the American and world athletes. She won the event easily in a new world record of 15:28.36. She won the event by 27 seconds with the closest American 36 seconds back.
The performance that made her undoubtedly the US female swimmer of the year was her anchor leg on the 4x200m freestyle relay. She dove in about two seconds behind the Australian team, split a 1:54.36, passed the Australian anchor Melanie Schlanger, and helped secure gold for the American team. To take in how important her anchor leg was, image that she wasn’t a member of the team. The next best option would have been most likely Chelsea Chenault or Cierra Runge based on results from nationals: two swimmers who had never been under 1:58 in their lives.
If either of those two had been on the relay, it would’ve been likely that the US would have lost. Chenault and Runge are both extremely talented swimmers, but it just goes to show how impressive and important Ledecky is to the relay effort. Now, it wasn’t all Ledecky of course as the Americans have such a wealth of talent, however there’s no denying that she played a very important role in securing the gold.
Whichever way you look at it, Ledecky was the best American swimmer this year. She was the only American swimmer to set world records, the only American female swimmer to win multiple golds at an international competition, and absolutely cleaned up at competitions held on American soil.
With the amount of success that Ledecky had in 2014, there is no doubt that she is the rightful recipient of the 2014 Swammy Award for 2014 United States female swimmer of the year, an award she has now won for two years straight.
- Elizabeth Beisel – Beisel had a very good year with her best results at an international competition yet. She bettered the silver and bronze she got at the 2012 Olympic Games at the Pan Pacs this summer, and although the competition isn’t as fierce she came home with a gold and a bronze. She won the 400m IM in 4:31.99, a new championship record time, and finished third in the 200m backstroke. Those performances backed up a good showing at nationals where she won the 400m IM. She qualified for six finals, and swam in four. In the 200m backstroke despite having a fall at the start, she swam very strongly to come back and finish sixth overall. She finished the season with two top-five world rankings with a fourth place ranking in the 400m IM and a fifth place on in the 200m backstroke.
- Maya DiRado – DiRado broke out onto the international scene in 2013, and earned her first international medal at the World Championships in Barcelona. There she claimed gold as a member of the 4x200m freestyle relay. This season, she extended on those results with two medals at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships following a very successful nationals. At national, she made the team with a second place finish in both the 200 and 400 IMs. At Pan Pacs she went on to grab her first individual international gold with a 200m IM victory which she took in championship record time. She also finished second in the 400m IM. Out of all the American athletes at the meet, she had the second best overall individual performance behind only Katie Ledecky. DiRado ended the season ranked 5th in the 200m IM and 7th in the 400m IM. Beisel claims the victory over her based on national performances and overall end of season rankings.