There’s no denying that Katie Ledecky had the biggest impact on the sport compared to any other athlete during the 2014-15 season.
With countless wins, world records, and American records, Ledecky earns the Swammy award for Person of the Year for the way she’s expanded what swimming fans thought possible in the freestyle races, both in terms of range and historic time barriers.
In her senior year of high school, Ledecky accomplished a lot more than others can ever hope of accomplishing in her career. She broke her first major record of the 2014-2015 season in late December, dropping a 15:13.30 in the 1650 freestyle at the 2014 US Winter Nationals.
That time for Ledecky bettered her 15:15.17 mark that she set in 2013, and made her the first female swimmer to ever go under 15:15 in the 1650 freestyle. With much of the season remaining, Ledecky was already proving to the world that she was untouchable in distance freestyle.
Her first record breaking performance of 2015 was on February 6; the last high school swim meet of her career. Ledecky clocked in a wicked 4:26.58 in prelims to break her own American record in the event, and set herself up for the win. Ending off her high school career on an American record, Ledecky began to prepare for the 2015 World Championships, a meet which would solidify her name as one of the best distance swimmers of all time.
Until the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, Ledecky kept quiet. While keeping quiet for most people means struggling to get close to season best times, Ledecky was still motoring through with some of the fastest times in history at in-season competitions. With a full rest, she looked to be unbeatable in Kazan.
Unbeatable she was. Ledecky went a perfect five for five in Kazan continuing her streak of being undefeated in international finals throughout her entire career.
Ledecky managed wins in the 200, 400, 800, and 1500m freestyle events to become the first female swimmer to ever win four individual freestyle gold medals at either a world championships or Olympic Games.
In the 1500 freestyle, Ledecky broke her own world record twice lowering the mark to a 15:25.48 in finals. In the 800m freestyle, Ledecky smashed the previous world record with an 8:07.39 to become the first woman ever under 8:10 in the 800 freestyle, and put up what is arguably the most impressive world record in the books.
In the 400m freestyle she remained consistant with a 3:58, but it was the 200m freestyle that was the biggest struggle for Ledecky. She battled world record holder Federica Pellegrini and Missy Franklin to the wall, ultimately winning the race with a 1:55.16. While that time isn’t as historically dominant as her other wins, Ledecky’s sweeping of the 200- through 1500-meter races represents world dominance over an almost unheard-of range of distances.
Add in a gold medal from the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay and Ledecky took home a grand total of five gold medals.
After some calm from Ledecky following the World Championships, she managed to set a new American record in the 1000 freestyle, becoming the first woman ever to dip under nine minutes in the race. With a time of 8:59.65 at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club Invite, Ledecky broke Katie Hoff’s 9:10.77 from 2007 and capped off 2015 with an incredible performance.
With all the firsts Ledecky has brought to the sport of swimming, the historic barriers she’s smashed through and the way she has transcended the typically limited distance swimmer mold, Ledecky earns the Swammy Award for person of the year.
- 500 freestyle – 4:26.58 – 02/06/2015
- 1000 freestyle – 8:59.65 – 12/13/2015
- 1650 freestyle – 15:13.30 – 12/06/2014
- 800m freestyle – 8:07.39 – 08/08/2015
- 1500m freestyle – 15:27.71 – 08/03/2015
- 1500m freestyle – 15:25.48 – 08/04/2015
- First woman under 9:00 in 1000 freestyle (beat Katie Hoff’s 9:10.77 from 2007)
- First woman under 15:15 in 1650 freestyle
- First woman under 8:10 in 800m freestyle (8:07.39)
- First woman to win four individual freestyle golds at a World Championships or Olympic Games
Michael Phelps/Chad Le Clos – While Phelps wasn’t at the world championships, his name was thrown around on the deck in Kazan plenty. After some choice comments were made by Le Clos following his gold medal in the 100m butterfly, Phelps responded by putting up a faster time at the US Nationals. While Le Clos’ smack talk fired Phelps up, it put a great rivalry between them heading into the 2016 Olympic Games. Le Clos and Phelps deserve mention as a pair, if only for bringing the art of trash talk back to the sport.
- Katinka Hosszu – Katinka Hosszu took home three world championship medals at the world championships this summer and managed to break the long course 200m IM world record – her first world record in the Olympic-sized pool. With her outstanding performances on the world cup circuits and other international meets throughout the season she was without a doubt the best all around swimmer in 2015. But Hosszu also dealt with the pitfalls of becoming a sports icon when a Swimming World Magazine editorial made unfounded doping allegations against Hosszu, prompting a libel lawsuit. Between her in-pool heroics and out-of-pool celebrity, Hosszu is truly pioneering new ground in the realm of the “professional swimmer,” proving that a good one can rake in six-figure yearly salaries though a combination of consistency, endurance and versatility.