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2021 ASIAN MALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: WANG SHUN, CHINA
Wang Shun came into 2021 as one of China’s leading men over the past few years, having won Olympic bronze in the 200 IM in 2016, along with a bronze in that same event in 2017. He has also picked up a number of medals in a variety of events over the past decade at the long course World Championships, short course World Championships, the Asian Games, and the Military World Games.
Shun’s first big swim of the year was at Chinese Olympic Trials in May when he soared to victory in the men’s 200 IM. He swam a 1:56.78 to win the event by nearly three seconds, getting under the FINA A standard of 1:59.67. That swam was just over his 2017 national record of 1:56.16 and was enough to get him a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
In the first round of racing at the Tokyo Games, Shun got down to a 1:57.42, which was the 7th fastest in the field. In the second round, however, Shun accelerated to a 1:56.22 to get within 0.06 seconds of his PB and Chinese record.
With a loaded field in his company, Shun ultimately got the job done in the final and blasted a 1:55.00 Asian record to take Olympic gold. He finished just 0.28 seconds ahead of silver medalist Duncan Scott and collected his first-ever Olympic gold medal. The swim took out Kosuke Hagino’s former Asian record of 1:55.07 from back in 2016 and made Shun the 3rd fastest man in history behind Ryan Lochte (1:54.00) and Michael Phelps (1:54.16).
Wang Shun walked away from the Olympics as the only Asian man to top an individual podium in the pool. Shun also raced the 400 IM at the Games and swam a 4:10.63 in the prelims to finish 10th overall.
While many of the world’s greatest swimmers took a break from long course racing, Shun took to the pool at the 2021 China National Games in September 2021. Just a few weeks after winning his Olympic gold medal Shun swam a 1:56.33 to win gold (a swim that would have been the 5th fastest time in the Olympic final).
- Hwang Sunwoo (KOR): Our world junior male swimmer of the year Hwang Sunwoo had his Olympic debut this year and raced in 3 different events for Korea. His top finish in Tokyo was 5th in the men’s 100 freestyle where he swam a 47.82 and he walked away with a 7th place finish in the 200 freestyle (1:45.26). He had a faster swim in the 100 freestyle prelims, however, with a 47.56 Asian record. Sunwoo also had a quicker 200 freestyle swim during prelims with a 1:44.62 world junior record (which would have been a bronze medal swim in the final). Sunwoo also tore up the field in the short course season, capping off his year with his first-ever world title with a 1:41.60 at the Short Course World Championships.
- Tomoru Honda (JPN): Tomoru Honda was the only Asian man other than Shun to land on a podium at the Olympic Games. Honda swam to second place at his home Olympics in the 200 butterfly with a 1:53.73. Honda entered the meet with a PB of 1:55.31 from 2019, which he exactly matched in the semi-finals round after a 1:55.10 prelim. That makes his finals performance a PB by roughly a second and a half.
- Daiya Seto (JPN): Seto didn’t have the Olympics that many believed he would have when he missed the final in the 400 IM and the 200 butterfly. He made a bit of a comeback, however, in the 200 IM by placing 4th overall in the event with a 1:56.22, which was just 0.05 seconds off bronze. Seto continued racing into the fall, however, and put up some serious short course meters swims. He won 4 gold medals at the Kazan stop of the 2021 World Cup in the 100/200/400 IM and the 200 breast. Included in those swims was an Asian record in the 100 IM (51.29) and a World Cup record in the 200 IM (1:50.66). He picked up another two golds at the 2021 Short Course World Championships in the 200 IM and 400 IM. Additionally, he was a standout performer in the ISL where he collected 14 event wins, two match MVP awards, and finished 19th overall in the MVP points race.