To see all the 2014 Swammy Award winners, presented by TYR, click here.
The National Development Award is a new award. When looking around at 2014, we noticed that as our coverage expanded and dug deeper into swimming, some of the best stories didn’t come from the powerhouses, the Australians, the Americans, the Germans. Some of the best stories, that don’t get as many headlines, come from deeper into the sport. And for that reason, we want to begin recognizing each year National Federations that make significant and important steps forward in their development. These steps don’t have to be the FINAL step, they just have to be an important, landscape-altering step. This doesn’t mean the superpowers can’t ever be considered for the award, but to do so, there will have had to have been a drastic change to warrant it – meaning the steps must be even bigger for the bigger federations.
2014 Honoree: Kazakhstan
Led by National Youth Team coach Zagritsenko Nikolay Vassilyevich and National Team coach Vagizov Oleg Mirsayahovich led the Kazakhstan swimming program to new heights in 2014.
In the first 16 editions of the Asian Games, Kazakhstan won only 14 medals, averaging less than a medal-per-meet for the quadrennial affair (the federation only came into existence in 1998).
After the retirement of Vlad Polyakov, the best swimmer in the modern era (if not ever) for Kazakhstan, the Kazakhs had no big expectations upon them, externally, at the 2014 Asian Games. Polyakov was responsible for five Asian Games medals in his career, including one of only two golds ever for the country at the meet.
But with a roster of just 5 swimmers in Incheon, Kazakhstan came home with 5 medals – including a men’s breaststroke sweep from Dimitriy Balandin, who won the 50, 100, and 200 meter races (and wound up ranked 3rd-best in the world in 2014 in the 200).
On the women’s side, Yekaterina Rudenko took silver in both the women’s 50 back and women’s 100 back.
Now, suddenly, in a country best known aquatically for its water polo program, who have won 5 of the last 6 Asian Games gold medals on the men’s side, might have some pull to get those athletes to stick out competitive swimming a little longer.
Kazakhstan has still never won a long course World Championships medal, and has just four at short course Worlds. With the age of its two stars (Balandin is 19, Rudenko is 20), however, 2015 could be the break through year in long course, and Kazakhstan could be a threat for medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
That would be big development for Kazakhstan, and the first step taken in 2014, with the Asian Games success from two young stars, gives bright hope for the future of the world’s largest land-locked country.
- Scotland may have voted ‘no’ in the election for national independence in 2014, but their swimming federation, with 10 medals (3 gold) at the hosted 2014 Commonwealth Games made its biggest foray into a separate swimming identity from the United Kingdom ever in 2014. Among the top successes were a 1-2 finish in the men’s 200 breaststroke from Ross Murdoch and Michael Jamieson that ranked them 1st and 4th in the world, respectively, in 2014. The federation too is doing things the right way. They have a fantastic media relations staff, and when others are unable or unwilling to cover their National events, the Scots cover them the right way themselves – complete with live streams, full race video archives, post-race interviews, and great on-deck photography. We were split about 50/50 at team SwimSwam on whether to give this award to Kazakhstan or Scotland, but the tie-breaker was that the team’s head coach at the Commonwealth Games, Graham Wardell, slipped away at year’s end for a new role in Cardiff, Wales – his hometown club. Hopefully that, along with the next three years of focus on Scotland’s role as part of the broader UK team, doesn’t impede the program’s progress in 2015.
- Gabon, a moderately-sized Western African Nation, had a whirlwind year in 2014. In early June, the country’s fledgling swimming federation held its first ever National Championship meet. Then, at the end of November, FINA approved Gabon as one of three new member federations. The country has grown at a significant rate in past years economically (5.5% in 2013, 6.7% projected from 2014), and while lower oil process would inhibit that growth, a successful movement for diversification has pushed the country forward and it’s one of the most prosperous nations in sub-Sarahan Africa. With continued economic growth will hopefully come continued investment in sport, and the enthusiasm behind the national swimming movement is striking at the right time to catch that wave.