As our 2015 Swammy Awards come to a close, it’s time to count down the top 10 swims of the year leading to our overall Swammy for “Race of the Year.”
There are plenty of familiar faces here, some records, some near-misses and some swims that were perhaps more important in the big picture than they looked at the moment. Without further ado, let’s count down from 10:
#10: Ryan Lochte Four-Peats in 200 IM At World Championships
It wasn’t a world record and it wasn’t even the fastest 200 IM swim in the world for the year, but Ryan Lochte‘s world championship 200 IM is still hugely notable for two reasons. First, with his 1:55.81, Lochte became just the second male swimmer of all-time to win four consecutive world titles in the same event, joining Australian distance legend Grant Hackett. Secondly, Lochte stuck to his new technique of kicking underwater while on his back, brushing off a warning from FINA that he could be disqualified for the strategy. This is also the only swim of the year to spur a new rule interpretation from FINA, and launched the phrase “Lochte turn” to describe the technique, which is now illegal in IM and medley relay races, though still legal in freestyle events.
#9: Paltrinieri Breaks Oldest World Record On The Books At Short Course Euros
The only short course swim to make our list comes from earlier this month at the European Short Course Championships. There, rising Italian star Gregorio Paltrinieri downed by far the oldest world record left on FINA’s books. The old mark was from 14 years ago, set by Aussie legend Grant Hackett in 2001. With Paltrinieri’s 14:08.06 taking two full seconds off Hackett’s mark, there are no longer any FINA World Records left from before 2008, the height of the “super-suit” era.
#8: Gunes Wins Junior World Title in 200 Breast
Without doubt, the best swim of the Junior World Championships came from Turkey’s youngster Viktoria Gunes. The Ukrainian ex-pat not only broke the junior world record while winning gold in the 200 breast, she also rattled the senior world record and put up the fastest time in the entire world for the season. The 17-year-old Gunes went 2:19.64, scratching three full seconds off her own world record and beating the winning time from the World Championships by 1.5 seconds.
#7: Hosszu’s First-Ever Long Course World Record – 200 IM, FINA World Championships
For all of Katinka Hosszu‘s many successes in the sport, two major holes remained in her resume heading into 2015 – Hosszu had never broken a long course world record, nor had she won an Olympic medal. But Hosszu took down the first of those tasks with flying colors at the World Championships, going 2:06.12 to sneak under one of the toughest records on the books. The 2:06.15 mark set by Ariana Kukors in 2009 was one of the super-suited records least likely to fall, but Hosszu did the seemingly impossible to earn her first long course world record. She’ll have a shot to remedy that lack of an Olympic medal this coming year, where she’s the favorite in the 200 IM once again.
#6: James Guy Touches Out Sun Yang For Worlds Gold in 200 Free
Though Great Britain’s James Guy didn’t break any world records with his 200 free at Worlds, his touchout win over Sun Yang was one of the most memorable races at Worlds for a number of reasons. In terms of national pride, Guy’s win was yet another sign of the rising tide in British swimming. The Brits finished tied with China at 5 golds in the medal tally, and had this race gone the other way, that tally would have swung wildly in China’s favor. In addition, Guy’s race took on a bit of a dramatic narrative – whether deserved or not, China’s Sun had taken on the “bad guy” role in 2015 after a doping ban and some PR turmoil a year prior. Guy’s touchout win made him the de facto “hero” of the situation, and denied Sun a sweep of the 200, 400 and 800 free golds. All combined, Guy’s 1:45.14 to 1:45.20 win makes this list as one of the closest pure races with the highest stakes in 2015.
#5: Sjostrom Breaks World Record in 100 Fly at Worlds
Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom had seemingly been on the edge of 55 seconds in the 100 fly for ages, with the sheer speed to approach the mark, but never the ability to break through. That all ended in 2015, as Sjostrom became the fastest woman in history in the event and just the second ever under 56 seconds. Sjostrom went 55.64 to break the world record set by Olympic champ Dana Vollmer, and with Rio looming, Sjostrom continues to expand what’s possible in sprint butterfly.
#4: Ledecky Doubles Up On World Records in 1500 Free At Worlds
If there’s one race that really sums up the head-scraching speed that is Katie Ledecky, it’s her combined 1500 freestyles from prelims and finals of the 2015 World Championships. All but guaranteed a spot in the finals based on her in-season times compared to the rest of the world’s swimmers, Ledecky went out shockingly fast in prelims, shaving a half-second off her own world record with a 15:27.71 en route to the top seed. But the real key was Ledecky’s post-race reaction, when she said she was surprised by the record and was merely using the prelims swim as a warm-up. Ledecky breaking a world record without trying gained steam in sports media far more widespread than just the traditional swimming outlets, but Ledecky backed up her words a day later, blasting a 15:25.48 to take two more seconds off the world record. The only caveat that keeps this race from ranking higher is the fact that the 1500 is not an Olympic event, meaning the historical results are a bit thinner here than in the Olympic-distance races. Nonetheless, Ledecky’s double-world-record performance was one of the highlights of the entire year.
#3: Phelps Makes Statement Swim With World-Leading 100 Fly at U.S. Nationals
There’s an argument to be made that the most iconic moment of 2015 didn’t even happen at the World Championships. Half a world away on the same week, Michael Phelps was swimming at U.S. Nationals in San Antonio, Texas, removed from the World Championships squad after his 2014 DUI. Earlier in the day, Chad le Clos, the latest young swimmer to take up the mantle as Phelps’ biggest rival, had won the World Championship in the 100 fly. Le Clos went 50.56, a time Phelps hadn’t hit in years. And Le Clos wasn’t quiet about it. In his post-race interview, the South African said that Phelps “can keep quiet now” after seeing Le Clos’ performance. But Phelps had a swim of his own as the sun rose back in San Antonio, and blasted a 50.45 that topped Le Clos and ultimately led the world ranks for the year.
Phelps also put up world-leading times in the 200 IM and 200 fly, but this one earns special recognition on our list because it gave us one of Phelps’ most memorable reactions of all-time. His fiery response to the swim while in the pool was evident (it actually led to one of the best photo vaults in SwimSwam history), and Phelps had some pointed post-race comments that accomplished the difficult task of refusing to talk about Le Clos while very obviously talking about Le Clos. “I saw the times. I saw the comments,” Phelps said. “There are a lot of things I could say but I won’t. I let what I do in the pool do all of my talking and that’s how I’ve always done things.”
#2: Peaty Becomes First Man Under 58 In 100 Breast At British Championships
One of the most significant barriers smashed in 2015 was the 58-second wall in the 100 meter breaststroke. British star Adam Peaty has been on a tear the past few years with his signature brand of high-tempo, high-power breaststroke, and the 20-year-old Brit became the first man under 58 seconds at the British National Championships back in April. Peaty continues to revolutionize the stroke, taking an insane number of strokes without losing efficiency. (Peaty took 20 strokes in his first 50 and 26 in the back half in his 57.92 world record swim). Peaty was the only man to break a long course world record in 2015, and he did it in two events – in this race, and in the 50 breast at the World Championships.
And you can find a second angle of the swim here.
#1: Ledecky Smashes 800 Free World Record At World Champs
In all honesty, Katie Ledecky could take up a lot more than two slots on this list. But there’s really no swim quite as impressive as her 800 freestyle from Kazan, a swim that blows away all of history by a ridiculous margin. Ledecky obliterated her own world record, going 8:07.39 to take more than three and a half seconds off the mark, and she became the first woman ever under 8:10 (not to mention 8:11). At this point, Ledecky is more than six seconds faster than anyone else in history, and more than eight seconds faster than #3 all-time. She won the world title by double-digits, finishing 10.26 seconds up on silver medalist Lauren Boyle of New Zealand. It also allowed Ledecky to win nearly-unprecedented titles in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyles, showing a range that’s quite possibly not human. It seems more and more likely that Ledecky is an alien, or a time-traveler from the future of swimming when times like 8:07 are more commonplace. Or perhaps Ledecky is just a once-in-a-lifetime talent that we’re all lucky enough to observe in her prime. Whatever her secret, Ledecky was clearly the swimmer to watch for the year 2015.