To see all of our 2017 Swammy Awards presented by TYR, click here.
2017 Male BREAKOUT SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: Zane Grothe, United States
A late-breaking entry for the award, American swimmer Zane Grothe had his big break-through at 25 years old when he broke the American and U.S. Open Records in both the 500 and the 1650 yard freestyle at the US Winter National Championships in the waning days of November and into December.
First, he brought the 500 free record down by more than a second with a 4:07.25, and then at the end of the meet he swam a 14:18.25 in the 1650 free to break that record down by more than 4 seconds.
There was a long buildup to these swims. Grothe swam a 3:44 in the 400 free at the US World Championship Trials, making him the 7th-fastest American in the history of the event. There were also some benchmark out-of-season swims that built some tension too, and some reports of insane workout swims. He wound up 7th in the 400 free at the World Championships and 8th in the 800.
Grothe swam as an undergrad at Auburn, but now trains at the post-graduate group based at Indiana University in Bloomington. What really gives his story the proper emotion for a ‘breakout’ is how long he’s fought to get his moment. After his record-breaking swims in Columbus, he told SwimSwam reporter Coleman Hodges that he was ready to retire when he came to Indiana.
The build will continue in 2018. With the addition of the men’s 800 free to the Olympic schedule, Grothe gets a little more motivation to persevere until Tokyo: the 800 is probably a better event for him than the 1500, his recent mile swim in yards not-withstanding. 2018 he’ll swim at the Pan Pac Championships, a lower-key international meet. The primary focus will be ensuring he qualifies for the 2019 World Championships team (which will be decided next year), but it will also be a chance for him to take the next step and get on an international podium in an individual race – Australia’s Mack Horton and American Clark Smith will be his primary competition in those races. That will build into South Korea, and then, if everything goes right, Tokyo and a chance at Olympic hardware.
As my coach always said to me – the key to a good breakout is building on the momentum from the start. Grothe has gotten his breakout, now is when we’ll find out how he builds on it.
In no particular order
- Kristof Milak, Hungary – after not qualifying for Hungary’s 2016 Olympic Team, 17-year old Kristof Milak broke through in 2017 to win a World Championship silver medal in the 100 fly this summer. What’s more, he set a new Hungarian National Record and World Junior Record in both the semi-finals and finals. At the World Junior Championships shortly thereafter, he proved his mettle again by winning 4 golds (including the 100 and 200 fly individually) and a bronze in the 50 fly. The answer to the question of who will take up the torch from Laszlo Cseh as Hungary’s butterflier has been answered; Kristof Milak.
- Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia – In short course meters, Kolesnikov can stake a claim to 2017 World Swimmer of the Year. His 100 SCM backstroke World Record, set just last week, was the only set by a man in an individual short course event – and one of only 3 set individually in any course in 2017. He also led off Russia’s world-record-setting 200 medley relay. The one thing missing from his resume in 2017 was a medal at a world long course competition. He finished a best of 4th in the 200 back at Worlds (he missed finals in the 100 and 50 backstrokes), and didn’t swim at World Juniors. 2018 will probably be his year for this award.
- Ippei Watanabe, Japan – Watanabe broke a World Record at a domestic meet in January in the 200 breaststroke by .34 seconds – a relatively-significant margin. He wound up with just bronze at the World Championships and was 7-tenths slower in the final than his record. That, combined with the fact that he was double Asian champion in 2016 (thereby lifting the starting point for his ‘breakout,’ helped dampen his candidacy for this award. Still enough for an honorable mention, however.