2018 Swammy Awards: Top 10 Swims of the Year

For all of our 2018 Swammy Awards presented by TYR, click here. 

2018 SWAMMY Awards: Top 10 Swims of the Year

As we wrap up our 2018 Swammy Awards, it’s time to look back at the top 10 swims of 2018. While this exercise is purely subjective, we try to consider a diverse range of factors, from historic dominance to high-pressure, big-moment performances to the ‘fun’ factor – which races were just great to watch.

We should make a note in advance, though: short course yards really made this list difficult in 2018. An NCAA Championships meet on the men’s side that was pretty thick with historic and memorable swims left us struggling to balance the impact of short course yards swims vs swims that were more relevant to the worldwide swimming fanbase. In the end, we tried to pick the most mind-boggling of the short course yards swims without letting yards completely overtake the top 10 – even if some of the swims left off the list were incredibly historic in their own right.

In addition, with the world’s top swimmers very spread out between major rest meets (Commonwealths, Euros, Pan Pacs, Asian Games, Youth Olympics), this year’s list is a little denser on historically fast swims and a touch lighter on exciting head-to-head races. That should make us even more excited for a 2019 season that should pit the best of the best against one another head-to-head at the World Championships.

#10: Townley Takes Back 200

  • Swimmer: Townley Haas (USA/University of Texas)
  • Event: 200 (SCY) free
  • Time: 1:29.50
  • Meet: 2018 Men’s NCAA Championships (Mar. 23)

After the American and NCAA records in the 200 yard freestyle had stagnated from 2006 to 2016, Texas Longhorn Townley Haas led a resurgence. He broke the record in 2016, then just missed his own mark in 2017, but 2018 was the true barrier-breakthrough in the event.

Haas won his third consecutive NCAA title in the event, a huge win for his Longhorns in a brutal team points battle, and Haas went 1:29.50, setting the NCAA, U.S. Open and American records in the race. Haas’s swim gets big points for venue (the NCAA meet is extremely high-pressure, and outside of the Olympics and World Championships, arguably one of the brightest spotlights in the sport), history (he’s now 1.7 seconds faster than the 2006 record he broke in 2016) and barrier-breaking. But it loses a tiny bit of luster given that Haas was only the second man under 1:30 in the event – Indiana’s Blake Pieroni briefly stole the record away, going 1:29.63 on the leadoff of the 800 free relay two days before Haas’s individual win.

#9: Govorov’s Sette Colli Surge

  • Swimmer: Andrii Govorov (UKR)
  • Event: 50 (LCM) fly
  • Time: 22.27
  • Meet: Sette Colli Trophy (Jul. 1)

One of just three long course world records set on the men’s side in 2018, Andrii Govorov‘s 50 fly was the only one to erase a previously super-suited record. Govorov smashed the world 50 fly record, going 22.27 to crush the 22.43 mark set in 2008 by Rafael Munoz. Govorov now owns three of the top 10 swims in history in the event.

While his swim came at the Sette Colli Trophy (an extremely fast in-season meet, but not a major continental or world championship), Govorov did beat defending world champ Ben Proud head-to-head, adding to the impressiveness of this swim.

#8: Caeleb Dressel is an IMer, too, apparently

  • Swimmer: Caeleb Dressel (USA/University of Florida)
  • Event: 200 (SCY) IM
  • Time: 1:38.13
  • Meet: SEC Championships (Feb. 15)

Caeleb Dressel‘s otherworldly NCAA postseason started way back in February, when the sprint freestyler took on the 200 IM early in his team’s conference championship meet. Dressel, already the fastest 50 freestyler in yards history, showed remarkable range and versatility, destroying the fastest 200 yard IM time in history.

Dressel became (at the time) just the second man ever under 1:40 in the event, and his 1:38.13 obliterated the standing American, U.S. Open and NCAA records by more than a second. The fact that the swim came in what is likely Dressel’s 4th-best event (at best) shows just how unbelievably dominant he’s been in the short course yards format.

#7: Shake & Bake(r) World Record in 100 Back

  • Swimmer: Kathleen Baker (USA)
  • Event: 100 (LCM) back
  • Time: 58.00
  • Meet: U.S. Nationals (Jul. 28)

While it wasn’t at an international meet, Kathleen Baker‘s showing at U.S. Nationals in July was one of the finest single-meet performances of the year. The breakout star broke her first-ever world record in the 100 back, going 58.00 to beat a stellar domestic field.

Though she was the silver medalist in the 100 back at both the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships, there was still a distinct possibility Baker would miss the American Pan Pacs and World Championships roster in the 100 back, given a stellar field that included speedster Olivia Smoliga and rising stars Regan Smith, Isabelle Stadden and Phoebe Bacon, among others. But Baker clearly proved herself a cut above not only that field, but all of history, taking a tenth of a second off the world record.

Baker’s meet was also highlighted by a breakthrough 200 IM and a co-200 back win. But her 100 back was one of only two women’s world records set in Olympic events in 2018.

#6: Proud-ly the Fastest in Textile

  • Swimmer: Ben Proud (GBR)
  • Event: 50 (LCM) free
  • Time: 21.11
  • Meet: European Championships (Aug. 8)

Ben Proud actually had two standout 50 freestyles in 2018. The first came in June, when Proud went 21.15 at Sette Colli to become the fourth-fastest performer in history and the second-best ever in textile. But Proud leapfrogged textile world record-holder Dressel just over a month later, going 21.11 at the European Championships.

Proud’s swim was the fifth-fastest swim in the history of the sport, behind just four 2009 swims between Cesar Cielo and Fred Bousquet, all done in rubberized body suits. The men’s freestyles have stood up as some of the events most affected by those bodysuits (judging, at least, by the fact that five of six long course world records from 2009 haven’t been equaled since the suit ban, and several haven’t even been approached), making Proud’s textile world record a pretty impressive feat, even if it falls short of the official world record book.

Proud hit that time in semifinals, and though he faded to 21.34 in the Euros final, he still won by a full tenth of a second over the field.

#5: Seto-ing a 200 fly world record

  • Swimmer: Daiya Seto (JPN)
  • Event: 200 (SCM) fly
  • Time: 1:48.24
  • Meet: Asian Games (Dec. 11)

This one combines historical relevance with great spectator enjoyment. Arguably the race of the 2018 Short Course World Championships, the thrilling 200 fly showdown between Daiya Seto and Chad le Clos had everything you could hope for in a race.

The 26-year-old le Clos had won the past two short course world titles in the event and three of the last four. Le Clos won in 2016 and 2014, not swimming the race at the 2012 edition, but winning the short course world title in 2010 at the age of 18.

But Seto entered the meet with the world’s fastest time for the year, his 1:49.87 from Japan’s October selection meet topping le Clos’ 1:50.29 from an October World Cup stop. The Japanese 24-year-old had medaled in the 200 fly in the previous two editions of short course worlds (bronze in 2016, silver in 2014) but had yet to win gold in anything but the 400 IM.

A spirited battle saw the typically aggressive le Clos take a two-tenth lead over the opening 50, but Seto ran him down over the middle 100. Le Clos closed about a half-second better, but ran out of pool as Seto picked up the win in a new world record of 1:48.24 to le Clos’ 1:48.32. In fact, both men got under le Clos’ old world record of 1:48.56, which had incredibly stood since 2013.

#4: 57.0… er… 57.1 in 100 Breast

  • Swimmer: Adam Peaty (GBR)
  • Event: 100 (LCM) breast
  • Time: 57.10*
  • Meet: European Championships (Aug. 4)

Long the world’s reigning sprint breaststroke king, Adam Peaty did it again at Euros, swimming faster than history by a massive margin. Peaty broke his own world record with a 57.10, putting himself 1.3 seconds ahead of the second-fastest swimmer in history and extend his stranglehold on the fastest swims in history. (On the list of the top 10 100 breaststrokes in history, Peaty currently holds all 10).

The swim gets an interesting footnote, as it was originally believed to be a 57.00, and on the cusp of the first sub-57 in history. (Peaty was also the first – and remains the only – man to break 58 in the event). But a timing error at Euros caused times to be adjusted by a tenth, leading to his final 57.10 time. Does that make this swim less prestigious, or more memorable? Hard to say, but regardless, the swim remains the only men’s world record set this year in an Olympic event.

#3: 17.63

  • Swimmer: Caeleb Dressel (USA/University of Florida)
  • Event: 50 (SCY) free
  • Time: 17.63
  • Meet: NCAA Men’s Championships (Mar. 22)

This one doesn’t need anything else in the headline. The swim that rocked swimming fandom came on day 2 of the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis. Dressel entered the day as the fastest 50 yard freestyler in history, and left it as an extraordinary barrier-breaker who perhaps inspired more swimming awe among fans than any other swim this year.

Dressel started the day by splitting 17.96 on the 200 free relay in prelims – that marked his (at the time) sixth time breaking 18 seconds on a relay split. Only one other man has ever done so – Vladimir Morozov did it once in 2013. Then, Dressel cruised an 18.11 in prelims of the individual 50 free, breaking his own American and NCAA records and putting himself within striking distance of the first sub-18 swim from a flat start in history. (He would go on in the same session to split 40.2 on the end of a 400 medley relay).

But finals was where the fireworks truly started. Dressel led off the 200 free relay in 17.81, becoming the first man ever under 18 without a relay start, and doing so by an insane margin. But even that wasn’t the highlight. In his fifth swim of the day, Dressel won his fourth-consecutive NCAA title in the individual 50 free, blowing minds with a 17.63 American and NCAA record that shattered the best non-Dressel swim in history by an incredible six tenths of a second.

#2: Ledecky’s ‘Welcome to the Pros’ World Record

  • Swimmer: Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • Event: 1500 (LCM) free
  • Time: 15:20.48
  • Meet: Indianapolis Pro Swim Series (May 16)

There was probably no better example of a statement swim than Katie Ledecky‘s world record mile at the Indianapolis Pro Swim Series. Ledecky, a new pro after leaving the college ranks just two months prior, shattered her own world mark in her very first race as a professional swimmer.

The swim tore five seconds off her previous world record and gave Ledecky (at the time) the top 8 swims in history in the event. She currently owns 9 of the top 10 times in history, her world record sitting more than 18 seconds ahead of the #2 performer in history, nearly 20 seconds ahead of #3 and more than 22 seconds ahead of #4, who is coincidentally the second-fastest American in history.

The swim also spurred a wave of social media admiration from other Olympic swimmers, including Rowdy Gaines noting that Ledecky’s 800 split would have beaten everyone but herself at the Rio Olympics and Jacob Pebley wondering if Ledecky should get third-place prize money for the men’s event considering she beat all but two men swimming in Indy.

#1: Medley Relay Scorcher in Jakarta

  • Teams: China & Japan
  • Event: 4×100 (LCM) men’s medley relay
  • Times: 3:29.99 & 3:30.03
  • Meet: Asian Games (Aug. 24)

A true race of the year: the 4×100 medley relay throwdown at the 2018 Asian Games highlighted what was one of the most entertaining (and fastest) international meets of the year. A battle that came down to just .04 seconds yielded the two best medley relays of the year by a wide margin, including stellar splits across the field from some fast-rising young talent putting it together in the brightest spotlight.

The race was full of twists and turns at every step. Though China’s Xu Jiayu swept the individual backstrokes at the Asian Games, Japan’s Ryosuke Irie came through with a heroic leadoff, beating Xu by almost a tenth of a second to stake Japan to a lead. Breaststroke sweeper Yasuhiro Koseki extended the lead, but 23-year-old Yan Zibei of China bettered his individual 100 breast swim (59.3) by a huge margin, splitting 58.8 to keep his team in the hunt.

Then, 19-year-old Li Zhuhao split 50.6, rocketing China back to a dead heat for the lead. Japan’s Yuki Koborithough, was no slouch, splitting 51.0 after going 51.7 individually earlier in the meet.

Staring down a Japan lead of just .03 seconds, 23-year-old Yu Hexin anchored for China. Despite losing to two Japanese swimmers in the individual 100 free and only holding a two-year-old lifetime-best of 48.47 and a season-best of just 48.8, Yu blasted a 47.92 split, overtaking Japan’s Shinri Shioura (47.99) by just enough to eke out the win by four one-hundredths of a second.

Both teams broke the former Asian record and both set national records. The swims accounted for the two top medley relays in the world for 2018, besting 3:30.2s from the United States and Australia. In fact, only four nations in the world have been faster than these two swims since the ban of the super-suits in 2010: the U.S., Great Britain, Russia and Australia.

Here’s a look at the splits of the two relays:

China 2018 Japan 2018 Old Asian Record
Xu Jiayu 52.60 Ryosuke Irie 52.53 Ryosuke Irie 52.80
Yan Zibei 58.86 Yasuhiro Koseki 58.45 Yasuhiro Koseki 58.54
Li Zhuhao 50.61 Yuki Kobori 51.06 Yuki Kobori 51.21
Yu Hexin 47.92 Shinri Shioura 47.99 Shinri Shioura 47.64
3:29.99 3:30.03 3:30.19

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2 years ago

Find awkward that a race with 3 teams under wr (men 4×200 scm) did not make the list instead of seto, pieroni and dressel IM

Barney Rubble
2 years ago

Baker should be higher

Reply to  Barney Rubble
2 years ago

That is my top race and I have a video of it on my phone since I was in stands!

Reply to  Tm71
2 years ago

Baker broke the 100 Back WR by just .10 seconds. Objectively by FINA power points which reflect the strength of the swim relative to the then-current WR, it was actually only the third best world record of the season behind Ledecky’s 1500 Free and the 50 Back record of China’s Xiang Liu.

samuel huntington
2 years ago

mentioned this before, but Cate’s 50.9 split should probably be here (perhaps removing Haas). And I would put Ledecky at #1. But otherwise a great list!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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