2015 Asian Female Swimmer of the Year: Kanako Watanabe
Over the past three World Championships, Kanako Watanabe has risen from an also-ran to an all-around international star.
In 2013, Watanabe only the made the Japanese World Championships team in a pair of events, and missed finals in both. That entry list did not even include her now-signature 200 breaststroke, which was loaded up with her teammates Satomi Suzuki and Rie Kaneto.
By the 2014 Short Course World Championships, Watanabe had not only made the Japanese 200 breaststroke contingent, but had won the World title, with Kaneto second.
But it’s 2015 that garners Watanabe her first Swammy Award coming right on the heels of her first-ever long course world championship.
Watanabe won the 200 breast in a very tight battle that saw multiple strong medal contenders in the final and ultimately a three-way tie for bronze.
Though her time of 2:21.15 wasn’t mind-blowing (at least compared to previous World Champions and the Junior World Champ’s 2:19), Watanabe earns this award on an all-around development that also saw her rise from an IM swimmer who missed the Short Course Worlds final in 2014 to one who won the silver medal in Kazan.
Watanabe was 2:08.45 in the 200 IM, beating everyone by world record-breaker Katinka Hosszu.
That’s a huge rise for Watanabe, who becomes the rare international-level breaststroker able to extend her medal threat into another stroke discipline. Of 15 male and female breaststroke medalists at the 2015 World Champs, Watanabe is the only one to also medal outside of the breaststroke events – and she’s the first breaststroke medalist to do so since Eric Shanteau (200 breast, 200 IM) in 2009.
In no particular order.
Natsumi Hoshi, Japan: In terms of standalone swims, Hoshi’s gold-medal 200 fly performance in Kazan was probably more impressive than Watanabe’s 200 breast. Hoshi crushed the field by nearly a full second for World Champs gold.
- Zhang Yufei, China: The 17-year-old Zhang came up with a clutch double for China at the 2015 World Championships, first breaking the Junior World Record and taking bronze in the 200 fly (2:06.51) and then swimming a leg of the Chinese 4×200 free relay which also earned bronze.
- Fu Yuanhui, China: China’s only individual World Champs gold medalist on the women’s side, Yuanhui won a touchout in the women’s 50 back. She also held her own leading off the 4×100 medley relay, which China ultimately won in Kazan.
- Vien Nguyen, Vietnam: Nguyen almost single-handedly carried Vietnam to second in the medal table at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games. Her 8 golds, one silver and one bronze led all female swimmers at the meet, and trailed only Joseph Schooling overall – and Ngueyn did it all without the aid of any medal-winning relays. Nguyen also made Vietnam’s only semifinal at Worlds, taking 15th in the 200 IM.