2020 Swammy For Female Swimmer Of The Year Goes To Australia’s Kaylee McKeown

To see all of our 2020 Swammy Awards, click here.

2020 FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: KAYLEE MCKEOWN (AUS)

If one was to take a guess 12 months ago who would win the Swammy for 2020 Female Swimmer of the Year, they would probably be looking towards the Olympic Games to place their bet. Perhaps Katie Ledecky would use Tokyo as an opportunity to pull off a history-making 400/800/1500 freestyle triple victory. Perhaps 2019 winner Regan Smith would use her momentum to again lower the 100 and 200 backstroke records becoming a first-time Olympic medalist. Perhaps 16-year-old Benedetta Pilato would upset the 100 breaststroke King en route to her first-ever gold. Perhaps one of swimming’s elites in the form of Sjostrom, Kromowidjojo, Hosszu, Pellegrini, or Campbell would prove once again their longevity in the sport and dig their heels deeper into the history books with another few world record-breaking, gold medal-winning performances. Perhaps we would have been treated to an Oleksiak-like breakout performance from a formerly unknown star.

It’s fun to imagine what would have happened had the coronavirus pandemic not taken 2020 by storm, infecting more than 82 million worldwide and killing nearly 2 million. Perhaps all of those aforementioned would have occurred, and maybe they still will at the Tokyo 2020 Games to be held just half a year from now. In lieu of the Olympics, however, 2020 was a year of canceled swim meets, loss of training facilities, and scarce opportunities for athletes to put on their racing suits. The silver lining to the otherwise disappointing year though was that when athletes did get a chance to race – they made it count. In the middle of the summer, athletes began emerging from quarantine, relishing every opportunity to race, wondering if the home workouts and self-made weight rooms were enough to sustain their talent. By and large, swimmers around the globe answered that question with a resounding yes.

Post-quarantine 2020 featured some top-tier racing that would have been impressive in any year, let alone 2020. August-December featured more swim meets that we could have only dreamed of in the depths of March, April, and May. Meets such as the Sette Colli Trophy in Italy, the Wouda Cup in the Netherlands, Australia’s national Championships, China’s national championships, and the 13 meet International Swimming League were merely the headliners as national, continental, and world records fell all around the world. In total, new world records were set in 10 short course events and 1 long course in 2020 with a few of them being broken more than once.

So instead of the Olympics as the deciding meet for this award, we were instead given an array of meets and records, making for a rather tough decision. In the end, we decided that the award would go to the swimmer who best defied the odds that 2020 dealt her, got it together in the fall, and posted some incredible swims both short course and long course.

Kaylee McKeown re-wrote half of the Australian backstroke record book last year, setting new national records in the 100 and 200 backstrokes long course and the 200 backstroke short course. That short course record of 1:58.94 was also the world’s fastest-ever swim in the event, breaking Katinka Hosszu’s 2014 world record of 1:59.23. That makes McKeown the first and still the only woman to ever swim under the 1:59 barrier in the event. She was also the only woman in 2020 to get under 2 minutes in the short course 200 backstroke in the year with the second-fastest performer being Beata Nelson’s 2:00.27 from the ISL final.

While she didn’t quite hit the world records in the 50 and 100, McKeown also swam incredibly times of 26.00 and 55.68, just off Minna Atherton’s Australian records of 25.81 and 54.89, respectively. The 100 swim from McKeown, however, was the second-fastest in the world in 2020 behind Olivia Smoliga’s 55.04.

McKeown’s long course backstrokes were also among the fastest of all time. At the 2020 Queensland Championships, McKeown threw down a 57.93 to become just the second person to ever dip under the 58-second mark after Regan Smith‘s 57.57 world record from last year. Being the second-fastest ever to an American means that the swim was good enough to set a new Australian, Oceanian, and Commonwealth record.

In the 200 back, McKeown swam a 2:04.49, also setting new Australian, Oceanian, and Commonwealth records as the 3rd fastest woman in the event all-time. The swim was just a second off Regan Smith‘s 2:03.35 world record from 2019 and within half a second of Missy Franklin’s #2 time of 2:04.06.

As if her backstroke resume from 2020 wasn’t enough, McKeown also delivered a world-leading short course 200 IM. Her 2:03.68 swim in March was the fastest time in the world in the year and made her the second-fastest performer in history after Katinka Hosszu’s 2:01.86 world record from 2014.

So if you weren’t keeping track, here’s a summary of McKeown’s records from 2020:

200 Backstroke Short Course (1:58.94)

  • Australian Record
  • Oceanian Record
  • Commonwealth Record
  • World Record
  • First and currently the only woman to swim under 1:59

200 IM Short Course (2:03.68)

  • Australian Record
  • Oceanian Record
  • Commonwealth Record
  • #1 performer in 2020
  • #2 performer of all time

100 Backstroke Long Course (57.93)

  • Australian Record
  • Oceanian Record
  • Commonwealth Record
  • #1 performer in 2020
  • #2 performer of all time

200 Backstroke Long Course (2:04.49)

  • Australian Record
  • Oceanian Record
  • Commonwealth Record
  • #1 performer in 2020
  • #3 performer of all time

Until just a few months ago, it was up to debate whether McKeown was even the best backstroker of 2020. Early in the year we saw Reagan Smith as the early leader with her long course swims at the TYR Pro Swim Series and then during ISL season 2, Kira Toussaint, Olivia Smoliga, and Beata Nelson were among those who threw their hats in the ring. Ultimately, in a year where the Olympic Games’ cancellation left a sizeable hole in a swimming viewer’s attention, McKeown’s numerous records made it clear that she was not only the most successful backstroker of the year but that she was also worthy of this award. As we enter 2020, Kaylee McKeown is one of the newest players in the top tier of elite swimming and will have many eyes on her as she inches her way towards a long-awaited Olympic debut.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

In no particular order

  • Kira ToussaintKira Toussaint was one of London Roar’s stars this ISL season, downing Etienne Medeiros’ short course 50 backstroke world record. Medeiros’s WR stood for nearly 6 years at 25.67 until Toussaint got under that mark by 0.07 seconds. Toussaint nearly lowered the mark again the next month but ended up exactly tying the 25.60 at the 2020 Amsterdam Christmas Meet. Throughout the ISL season, Toussaint also swam exceptionally in the 100 backstroke, winning 4 of her 6 races, losing only to Olivia Smoliga at match 10 and the final. Her 50 and 100 backstroke performances combined with some solid relay legs and 200 backstrokes gave her a total of 179 points season-wide which was good enough to rank her as #17 in MVP points for 2020.
  • Lilly King – Cali Condor Lilly King had another incredible ISL season, maintaining her perfect record in the breaststroke event from 2019 all the way until match 10 of the 2020 season. For the majority of the season, King won every 50, 100, and 200 breaststroke she raced. The streak was interupted by Annie Lazor at match 10 when beat King by 0.14 seconds in the 200. Despite the lapse, King continued to win at semifinals and closed out the season with a 50, 100, and 200 breaststroke victory, a 50 skins victory, and 4×100 medley relay victory at the season finale. King finished 2020 season with 350 total points, ranking #2 in the league behind only fellow Condor Caeleb Dressel.
  • Beryl Gastaldello – The 2020 European female swimmer of the year Beryl Gastaldello finished just behind King in MVP points this season with 340.50 points. Gastaldello’s success this season was largely due to her incredible sprint versatility – the perfect formula for an ISL all star. She consistently won events, picking up victories in the 50 free, 100 free, 50 fly, 100 fly, and 1o0 IM. Further, she was a key part of LA’s female and medley relays. Throughout the season, Gastaldello also notched new French records in both the 100 freestyle and IM at 51.16 and 57.30, respectively and was the quickest swimmer in the league in both the 100 IM and 100 fly (55.32).

Previous Winners:

  • 2020 – Kaylee McKeown (AUS)
  • 2019 – Regan Smith (USA)
  • 2018 – Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • 2017 – Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)
  • 2016 – Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • 2015 – Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • 2014 – Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • 2013 – Katinka Hosszu (HUN)

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Dee
8 months ago

Richly deserved. Congratulations to Kaylee and Chris on a fantastic season, and best of luck for a golden 2021.

Last edited 8 months ago by Dee
Troyy
Reply to  Dee
8 months ago

So many downvotes. 😮

torchbearer
Reply to  Troyy
8 months ago

She is not American…whenever I post something slightly positive about an Australian swimmer I get 20+ down votes. It is very transparent, and a bit sad.

torchbearer
Reply to  torchbearer
8 months ago

Point proven!

Admin
Reply to  torchbearer
8 months ago

Posting complaints about downvotes is also a really super good way to get downvotes.

In fact, it’s the best way to get downvotes. Apparently other than saying Kate Douglass should’ve won this award, yikes.

Troyy
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

I was the first to complain and up to this point didn’t get a single downvote.

Admin
Reply to  Troyy
8 months ago

No see you weren’t complainy enough. You were making an OBSERVATION about downvotes. Try adding more complaint to your complaint and see where that gets you.

Maybe add in some psychological evaluation of people who downvote you, assign a motive to them, that kind of thing usually works.

UNKNOWN
Reply to  Braden Keith
8 months ago

For real tho that Douglass comment was hilarious

Swammer
8 months ago

Kate Douglass = Robbed 😪😪😪

UNKNOWN
Reply to  Swammer
8 months ago

57 dislikes and counting lol

Last edited 8 months ago by UNKNOWN
Aussie
Reply to  Swammer
8 months ago

I feel bad but I don’t even know why kate Douglass is…

STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
8 months ago

Fully deserved. I’m surprised there was no mention of her LC No.1 world ranking in the 200IM and No.2 ranking in the 400IM. Kaylee McKeown’s emergence has changed the conversation. If you had said 12 months ago that she would be a serious challenger to Reagan Smith for Olympic gold in the 100BK/200BK and also a gold medal contender in the 200IM/400IM you would have been laughed at.

Mclovin
Reply to  STRAIGHTBLACKLINE
8 months ago

What the hell is wrong with the downvotes?? You have only stated a fact..

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
8 months ago

Great choice. How much better can she get? Scary. Does AUS have a breastroker that can keep it close with Lily King in the medley relay?

Mde
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
8 months ago

No. To win they would need perfect swims from Cate, Emma and Kaylee, while the US women are off their game a bit, so that whoever ends up being the breaststroker can get away with a 1:06.

Last edited 8 months ago by Mde
commonwombat
Reply to  Mde
8 months ago

The best AUS female breast-strokers are 1.06 low at best flat start, ie 1.05 mid flying start split being best case scenario. MDE’s scenario is about right. AUS is probably around “par”, if not slight advantage on the 3 other strokes but winning is contingent on all these other legs firing plus breast-stroker swimming out of their skins plus King (US key advantage) swimming slightly off. This certainly CAN happen but coming at the end of the program its likely a number of these key contributors will be running “close to empty”. Still very much Adv USA

swimfan210_
8 months ago

Well deserved!

Texas Tap Water
8 months ago

What’s with all the downvotes in a very positive article?

Last edited 8 months ago by Texas Tap Water
Samesame
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
8 months ago

It’s just ridiculous. Might have to get rid of the down votes . Just leave upvotes.

B1GBOI
Reply to  Texas Tap Water
8 months ago

Y’all acting like it’s the Americans downvoting it, but y’all ever seen how Australians talk about their own swimmers? Cue Cate Campbell editorial in 3…2…1…

Samesame
Reply to  B1GBOI
8 months ago

nearly all Aussies are sympathetic to Campbell. She had a bad race in Rio. End of story. It happens.

SwaussieBug
Reply to  Samesame
8 months ago

If that’s the “end of story,” then why do we get a new version of that story from her every 6 months? Doesn’t “end of story” mean you stop telling the story? I think at a minimum it means the “end of story” stops changing.

Troyy
Reply to  B1GBOI
8 months ago

I’ve only seen Americans dragging Cate here and Australians defending her.

Toronto2021
8 months ago

Most swimmers and fans recognize opportunistic hype when they see it, especially during a pandemic that limits sporting activity.

Corn Pop
8 months ago

I’d like t o give a shout out to Pelican Waters club for the excellent form strokes foundation .