2018 Male Breakout Swimmer of the Year: James Wilby, Great Britain
The biggest and baddest breaststroker in the British men’s breaststroke group is Adam Peaty, that’s no secret. But, before him and behind him, the country has quietly amassed the world’s most effective men’s breaststroke machine, including 2018’s breakout star 25-year old James Wilby.
Wilby had never won an individual medal internationally until 2018, but he broke through in a big way. First he had his big breakthrough in the 200 breaststroke at the Commonwealth Games, where he won gold and accomplished something that Peaty never has: medaling in all 3 breaststroke distances at an international meet. That was part of a 4-medal overall performance (1 gold, 2 silvers, 1 bronze). In his followup, he took 3 medals (gold as a prelims 400 medley swimmer, plus silver in the 100 and 200 breaststroke) at the European Championships to bring his medals total to 7 on the year.
He swam lifetime bests in all three long course breaststroke distances in 2018 and now ranks in his country’s top 5 of all time in each. That includes 2nd all-time in Britain in the 100, behind only Peaty himself, and 3rd all-time globally in the 100 breaststroke.
Wilby’s all-time ranks, British history:
- 50 breaststroke – (tied) 5th, 27.37
- 100 breaststroke – 2nd, 58.64
- 200 breaststroke – 4th, 2:08.05
His emergence as a 58-second breaststroker now gives the UK full confidence to be able to rest Peaty in prelims at the World Championships and Tokyo in the 400 medley relay, including in the new mixed medley, and save their superstar some swims without risking their spot in finals. That’s a huge luxury, given how far ahead of the rest of the world Peaty is right now.
In no particular order
- Australia’s Jack McLoughlin won the 400 free at Pan Pacs and the 1500 free at the Commonwealth Games, in both cases beating-out his more-heralded countrymate Mack Horton. The 23-year old had no major international medals prior to 2018. Australia won the first 9 offerings of the 1500 in Commonwealth Games history, from 1970 through 2002, but had only taken 1 medal of any color in the previous 3 editions. The hope in restoring Australian pride in the 1500 had been placed squarely on Horton, but it was McLoughlin, who is actually older than Horton, who swooped in and nabbed the glory.
- We seem to be entering a golden era of men’s distance swimming. Add Germany’s Florian Wellbrock to that list, after he won gold at the European Championships in the 1500 free, bronze in the 800 free, and completed the cycle with an open water team silver. In 2018, he led the world in the 1500, improving his best time from 14:55 to 14:36. He also knocked 5 seconds off his best in the 800 (7:50 to 7:45).