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2017 Swammy Awards Asian Female Swimmer of the Year: Li Bingjie, China
For the first time in a decade (since 2007), the whole of the Asian continent came away without a women’s swimming medal at the 2017 World Championships. We named Japan’s Rikako Ikee the Female World Junior Swimmer of the Year thanks to her exploits on the junior stage. Ikee won 3 World Junior titles (50 free, 50 fly, 100 fly) and earned 7 overall World Juniors medals; she broke World Junior Records in 8 events, with some of those records being broken multiple times. What she lacked, however, was a medal at the year’s premier international event: the World Aquatics Championships. At that meet, she was by-and-large slower than at World Juniors, and made just 1 final: a 6th-place finish in the 100 fly.
Enter, then, 15-year old distance swimmer Li Bingjie, who didn’t swim at the World Junior Championships. At the senior meet, the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, she took two individual medals (the only Asian swimmer to do so) with silver in the 800 free in a new Asian Record of 8:15.46 and bronze in the 400 free in 4:03.25.
She also added a silver from the 800 free relay, where she had China’s fastest split in the final of 1:55.46 (the 2nd-best split overall, behind Ledecky).
Bingjie isn’t the first distance phenom we’ve seen come out of China in this decade, but she is the best so far: she set Asian Records in the 400 free (4:01.75), 800 free (8:15.46), and 1500 free (15:52.87) in 2017. As the 3rd-fastest 800 freestyler (almost as fast as Ledecky at the same age), she has now emerged as the most likely candidate to challenge Ledecky at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
(in no particular order)
- Rikako Ikee, Japan – For the reasons mentioned above, including 7 World Junior medals, and earning the right to swim a whopping 6 events at the World Championships.
- Liu Xiang, China – Xiang continued the recent buildup of sprint quality in Asia – an area that the continent as a whole has traditionally struggled with. At China’s National Games, she swam a 24.04 in the 50 free semi-final. She was just 6th at Worlds, and her season-best would’ve bumped her only to 5th, but the swim was significant anyway.