2017 National Development Award: Ireland
In 2016, Swim Ireland pulled off the biggest national-team-coaching-hire-coup since Sergio Lopez moved to Singapore in 2015 when they hired Jon Rudd away from the Plymouth Leander Swim Club in England, where he coached among others the World Record holder in the 100 breaststroke Ruta Meilutyte. Then they won big again when they lured Ben Higson away from the University of Stirling, where he coached Robbie Renwick, Ross Murdoch, and Danielle Huskisson, among others.
Higson is a microcosm of Irish Swimming as a whole. He’s young (just 30 years old), and he’s talented. Young talent have exploded this year. While the country didn’t win any medals at either the World Championships in August, nor at the European Short Course Championships in December. In fact, they had only one semi-finalist at Worlds (Shane Ryan, 12th in the 100 back).
But we have to look beyond the medals to see what’s happening in Ireland. In 2017, they broke senior National Records in 37 different events – and some of those were broken multiple times. They broke Junior National Records in 30 events as well, for 67 total national records broken.
Even better, those records have been well-distributed. They’ve come in both men’s and women’s races. They’ve broken records in every discipline – sprint freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, IM, club relays, national relays – the only exception is the distance freestyle records, which largely were left untouched, especially at the senior level.
Some of those swims are overlapping – like from teenager Conor Ferguson, who with every senior record swim (all three backstrokes in short course, the 200 in long course) also broke a junior record.
A summary of the Irish Records broken in 2017 is below, counting the number of events, not the number of records.
|Long Course Senior||13||7||20|
|Long Course Junior||6||7||13|
|Short Course Senior||9||5||14|
|Short Course Junior||8||5||13|
|Long Course||Short Course|
|Mixed Relays Senior||2||1||3|
|Mixed Relays Junior||2||2||4|
Previous Winners, and how they’ve built off their success:
- 2014 – Kazakhstan – two years after his success at the Asian Games, Dimitriy Balandin won Kazakhstan’s first-ever Olympic medal in swimming when he won gold in the 200 breaststroke in Rio.
- 2015 – Singapore – After the aforementioned hiring of Lopez, and Joseph Schooling just beginning to show hints of what he was capable of, Schooling went on to win Olympic gold, beating Michael Phelps, in the 100 fly in Rio. Now, his countrymate Quah Zheng Wen looks like he might have Schooling-like potential, and in total, the country broke 22 national records in 2017. They still only had two swimmers (Quah and Schooling) at the World Championships, but even after Lopez’s departure, the country continues to rise, at least against its own benchmark.
- 2016 – Canada – With Taylor Ruck missing the team, there were no women’s relay medals at the 2017 World Championships, and likewise no Penny Oleksiak medals (she had some injury issues), Still, Canada’s women’s team showed even more depth than they did in Rio. Sydney Pickrem took a bronze medal in the 400 IM at Worlds, likely would have scored a medal in the 200 IM if she hadn’t swallowed an insurmountable amount of water on the first 50, and Kylie Masse broke Gemma Spofforth’s World Record in the 100 backstroke.