2021 Golden Goggles: Katie Ledecky Wins 7th ‘Female Athlete of the Year’ Award

by Spencer Penland 13

December 08th, 2021 National, News

USA Swimming held its annual Golden Goggles Awards gala tonight in Miami, FL, honoring the top American swimmers, coaches, and performances of the year.

The evening kicked off with a short montage of USA Swimming’s performances at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which can be seen in the tweet below.

The Americans again led the Olympic medal table, racking up 30 medals in Tokyo, including 11 Gold, 10 Silver, and 9 Bronze. As shown in the video, the US got out to as good a start as they possibly could have, with Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland taking Gold and Silver in the first event, the men’s 400 IM.

Now, with the formalities out of the way, let’s get into the awards.

Lydia Jacoby – Breakout Performer of the Year

Alaskan teenager Lydia Jacoby had anything but a typical summer break, heading to Omaha for the U.S. Olympic Trials, where she landed a surprise spot on the American roster after finishing 2nd in the women’s 100 breast, behind Lilly King. Jacoby became Alaska’s first Olympic swimmer, heading to Tokyo with Team USA just weeks before starting her senior year of high school.

The 17-year-old cruised through prelims in Tokyo, finishing 2nd in 1:05.52, behind only South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker, who broke the Olympic Record in 1:04.82, Jacoby was then able to match her speed in semifinals, swimming a 1:05.72 to take the 3rd seed for finals. As the swimmers walked out for the final, it appeared that World Record holder and defending Olympic Champion Lilly King was primed for Gold, the resurgent Schoenmaker was likely for Silver, and Jacoby may be able to hold on for the Bronze medal with a good swim. Jacoby had other plans, however, throwing down a massively impressive 34.21 on the 2nd 50 to edge out ahead in the final 20 meters. She touched first in 1:04.95, grabbing one of the most unexpected Gold medals of the Games.

Thanks to her individual performance, Jacoby was tabbed for spots on the mixed 4×100 medley relay and the women’s 4×100 medley relay. The mixed relay ultimately finished 5th, well off the podium, but the Americans were able to secure a Silver medal in the women’s medley relay, thanks in part to Jacoby’s field-leading 1:05.03 breaststroke split.


Annie Lazor – Perseverance Award

Annie Lazor’s story is about the magic moments at the Olympic Trials and Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal just 3 months after her father died, and especially how it played out through her relationship with her training partner Lilly King. Both women train with the Indiana University pro group under coach Ray Looze. If you watched the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer, you’ll remember the race promo in which Lazor details how King helped keep her going in training following her father’s death.

The pair would take that special bond all the way to the final of the women’s 200 breast in Tokyo, where King grabbed the Silver medal, and Lazor picked up Bronze, competing in her first Olympics. The pair shared this special moment of celebration with South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker, who won Gold in a new World Record, and Kaylene Corbett, who came in 5th.

Katie Ledecky – Female Athlete of the Year

In the end, who else could it have been? Katie Ledecky went to Tokyo with a brutal schedule of events, thanks to the addition of the women’s 1500 free for these Olympics. She competed in the 200 free, 400 free, 800 free, 1500 free, and women’s 4×200 free relay. The greatest women’s distance swimmer of all-time stepped up in the face of a grueling double towards the beginning of the meet. Ledecky was faced with the women’s 200 final in the same session as the women’s 1500 free final, and came out the other side with a Gold medal.

Although she finished 5th in the 200 free, an unusual position for one of the most dominant swimmers in history, she was able to shake it off immediately, turning around just an hour later and winning Gold in the inaugural women’s 1500 free. In her first final of the meet, Ledecky picked up Silver in the women’s 400 free, after a tough race with Australia’s Ariarne Titmus. Ledecky would get the Aussie back, however, winning the 800 free over her, and earning her 3rd consecutive Olympic Gold in the event. Ledecky also anchored the women’s 4×200 free relay to a Silver medal, passing the Australian team, and very nearly running down the Chinese team, who grabbed Gold in the event.

The award is also historic in its own right. Ledecky has now won 7 Female Athlete of the Year awards, which ties her with none other than Michael Phelps for the most “Athlete of the Year” awards in USA Swimming history.


Caeleb Dressel – Male Athlete of the Year

Honestly, this was probably the easiest selection of the night. A case could have been made for Bobby Finke for his 2 improbable Olympic Golds and American Record, but ultimately no male swimmer’s performance matched that of Dressel. As Braden Keith pointed out in our Official SwimSwam ballot, Dressel’s Tokyo Olympics was probably a top 5 Olympic performance of all-time.

Dressel won 5 Gold medals, winning the men’s 50 free, 100 free, and 100 fly, and breaking the Olympic Records in all 3. Dressel also broke his own World Record in the 100 fly, lowering the mark to 49.42. He also helped the men’s 4×100 free relay to Gold, as well as the 4×100 medley relay, which broke the WR. After breaking that relay World Record, Dressel now holds 9 FINA World Records, which is a record in itself.


Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay – Relay Performance of the Year

Speaking of that men’s 4×100 medley relay, it won Relay Performance of the Year. This was another expected selection, as this was the only World Record-setting relay of the summer for the US. It was also the final pool event of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, capping off a successful run by Team USA on as good a note as possible.

Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel, and Zach Apple teamed up to swim a 3:26.78, beating out a Great Britain team that had bested the Americans at the 2019 World Champs. The selection of Michael Andrew for the breast leg was somewhat contentious, but the move paid off, as Andrew posted the 3rd-fastest breast split in the field, and kept the US close enough the Great Britain for Dressel to take over the lead on the fly leg.


Lydia Jacoby, Women’s 100 Breast – Female Race of the Year

Lydia Jacoby won her 2nd award of the night, earning Female Race of the Year for her 100 breast in Tokyo. There’s not a whole lot to say here, since we already went over the race in her Breakout Performer of the Year excerpt. Jacoby was up against Katie Ledecky‘s 800 free and 1500 free in this category. Ledecky won her 3rd 800 free Gold, and won the first-ever women’s 1500 at the Olympics, so there was some merit there. However, Jacoby took down the World Record holder and defending Olympic Champion, as well as the newly-minted Olympic Record holder to win her gold medal, all at just 17 years of age, so Jacoby earned this award without a doubt.


Bobby Finke, Men’s 800 Free – Male Race of the Year

Bobby Finke took home Male Race of the Year for his 800 free in Tokyo, which was possibly even less expected than Lydia Jacoby‘s 100 breast Gold. The US had been struggling in men’s distance races and that didn’t seem likely to change in Tokyo. In fact, I wrote the SwimSwam event preview for the men’s 800 free in Tokyo, and I didn’t even have Finke making the final. Boy, does that seem silly looking back.

Finke broke the American Record, swimming a 7:41.87, becoming the 13th-fastest performer all-time in the event. That wasn’t the most impressive part of the race, however, the most impressive part was how he did it. Finke hung around behind Gregorio Paltrinieri, Mykhailo Romanchuk, and Florian Wellbrock until the final 50 of the race, when he absolutely took off. He posted an impossible 26.39 on the final 50, touching first by 0.24 seconds. I say impossible, but Finke actually went on to close his 1500 free in 25.78 later in the meet to win Gold, which was a faster final 50 split than anyone swam in the final of the 200 free.


Gregg Troy – Coach of the Year

Caeleb Dressel‘s long-time coach, Gregg Troy, earned Coach of the Year honors for helping Dressel to his 5 Golds in Tokyo. Troy served as a member of the Olympic coaching staff in Tokyo, helping Dressel to his historic Olympic performance, as well as the other members of the US men’s team.


Bob Vincent & Cecil Gordon – Impact Award

Cecil Gordon, former Chair of the USA Swimming Foundation Board of the Directors, and Bob Vincent, Chair of the USA Swimming Board of Directors won the impact award for their impact on the sport. Through his work with the USA Swimming Foundation, Dr. Gordon has helped to promote the life-saving skill of swimming around the country.

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1 month ago

Lazor deserves the perserverence award. And many other swimmers do, not just Olympic medalists. Agree with previous comments that it’s a tough award to determine criteria for.
That all being said, Tom Shields deserves more recognition. His story is the ultimate tale of rock bottom to glory, done with sheer grit and determination. He should get more recognition because I believe his story can inspire many swimmers, many athletes, many people, and can even save lives.

Reply to  Penguin
1 month ago

I feel like Tom deserved a special recognition award or something. His honesty about mental health and his suicidal ideation is brave and will help many other athletes.

1 month ago

Caeleb — GOAT sprinter; congrats!

Lil Swimmy
1 month ago

erica not winning any awards i’m in shambles

1 month ago

How much did the dressel-mobile go for?

1 month ago

Female best athlete of the year award competition is kind of boring. It’s like competition who is taller in the class. Once you got taller than other your classmates you will win this competition all the time. We probably won’t see other name in this category until Ledecky’s retirement.
I’m wondering should Chinese W4x200 relay be 0.4 sec slower would the American team win the relay performance of the year award against American mens 4×100 medley relay team. It would be also a gold medal and a fantastic world record as well. The fact that this team was second in the race and was 0.4 sec late with the world record doesn’t make this achievement less spectacular. Look at… Read more »

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Yozhik
1 month ago

Manuel won in 2019….

Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
1 month ago

It will be nice if Simone Manuel shines that bright again.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 month ago

An inside source tells me that Dressel was leading the male race of the year vote until a huge surge from Finke in the final 26 seconds of voting.

Big Mac #1
1 month ago

Shields snubbed, not to belittle Annie’s struggles, they are all very horrible things to go through

Last edited 1 month ago by Big Mac #1
Steve Nolan
Reply to  Big Mac #1
1 month ago

It’s a weird award. “Who’s got the saddest story but then still swam good??”

It’s so ill-defined that half the time it seems to go to a veteran that re-makes a national/Olympic team after having previously missed one.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Nolan
Reply to  Spencer Penland
1 month ago

I feel bad they have to even accept those awards. It’s kinda like, “hey remember when your dad passed away?”