2018 WORLD JUNIOR FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: TAYLOR RUCK
We’re well past the half-way point between the 2016 Rio Games and the 2020 Tokyo Games, and as chatter grows about medal favorites, underdog chances, and so on, more eyes are trained on the future of the sport. A year and a half can make a world of a difference for a swimmer of any age, but it can really have an impact on elevating a young standout to a dominant champion.
This year, among many incredible female junior swimmers, Canadian Taylor Ruck has stood above the rest.
Ruck peaked for two monumental wins this year, taking gold in the 200 free at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and then, arguably more impressively, won gold in that same event at the 2018 Pan Pacs. Most notable about that latter swim was her defeat of Katie Ledecky, the best distance freestyler in history, Allison Schmitt, the Olympic record holder in this event, and Rikako Ikee, a fast-rising Japanese talent who is currently one of the best 200 freestylers in the world.
Ruck ends 2018 as the fastest female 200 freestyler this calendar year, and in terms of 18& under, was the quickest junior in the world in the 100 free, 200 free, and 200 back, as well as hitting #2 in the 100 back and 50 free.
In no particular order
- Rikako Ikee (Japan): A star rising at a very similar rate to Ruck, this year Ikee rewrote Japanese records in long course in the 50/100/200 free and 50/100 fly, as well as on both free relays and the 400 medley relay. She’s broken out of the mold of a pure sprinter, honing her 100 free and vaulting her 200 free into international medal range (namely, also beating Ledecky and earning the silver at Pan Pacs). She also set new national marks in the 50/100 free and 100/200 free in SCM, was the fastest woman in the 100 fly LCM this year, became the first person to win six golds at a single Asian Games, and won four medals at the Pan Pacs (one of which was gold in the 100 fly).
- Wang Jianjiahe (China): Wang, who just turned 16 this summer, claimed gold in the 800 free at the 2018 World Championships in Hangzhou, adding another gold as China swam to victory in the 4×200 free relay with Wang at the anchor, and claiming silver in the 400 free. Earlier in the year, Wang broke the 400 free WR in SCM and was a tenth off of the 800 free WR, too, and she was a four-time champion at the 2018 Asian Games.
- Ariarne Titmus (Australia): Titmus continues to evolve as a potential threat to Ledecky in the 200/400 free range (with more of a threat resting on the shorter of the two distances). She won golds in the 200 free and 400 free in Hangzhou, defeating Wang and setting a WR in the latter, and was dangerously close (by Ledecky margin standards) in her 400 free silver at Pan Pacs with a lights-out 3:59.66 in LCM. With that swim, Titmus became just the third woman ever to crack the four-minute barrier in the 400 LCM free, and the second woman to do so in a textile suit.