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2021 CANADIAN MALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: JOSHUA LIENDO
2020 marked the beginning of a new era in Canadian men’s swimming, to some degree, as Finlay Knox was named our Canadian Male Swimmer of the Year after the award had been dominated by the likes of Markus Thormeyer, Yuri Kisil and Santo Condorelli in previous years.
This changing of the guard continued in 2021, and leading the charge was Markham, Ontario native Joshua Liendo, who gets the nod after a phenomenal year that finished with a bang at the Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi.
Knox was the only real challenger to Liendo for this award, but between his record-breaking swims, debut Olympic performance and then the mind-boggling improvement curve he displayed at SC Worlds, Liendo wins this one going away.
In an Olympic year, the lead for a swimmer’s yearly accomplishments should be directed towards what they did at the Games, so let’s start there.
Liendo, who turned 19 a few weeks after the Games concluded, was the lone Canadian male to earn multiple semi-final berths in Tokyo, placing 11th in the 100 butterfly and 14th in the 100 freestyle. He also placed 18th in the 50 free, narrowly missing his personal best times (in all three) set just over a month earlier at the Canadian Olympic Trials.
Liendo, a product of the North York Aquatic Club (NYAC) who now trains at the High Performance Centre – Ontario under coach Ben Titley, also contributed a blistering 47.51 split on the Canadian 400 free relay in Tokyo that narrowly missed a medal in fourth, setting a national record in the process at 3:10.82, and his 50.92 butterfly leg helped earn the Canadians a berth in the final of the men’s 400 medley relay.
At those Trials, which were postponed multiple times and ended up taking place in late June, Liendo broke the Canadian Record in the 100 fly, clocking 51.40 to lower Condorelli’s 2016 mark of 51.83, and went on to qualify for the Olympic team by winning the final in 51.72.
Liendo followed up by winning the 100 free, setting a new PB of 48.13, and took second to veteran Brent Hayden in the 50 free, cracking the 22-second barrier for the first time in 21.90.
Unlike several of his Canadian teammates, Liendo didn’t race in the International Swimming League (ISL) this year, but made up for those missed swims (and then some) at the SC World Championships in Abu Dhabi.
While the Canadian women went out and did their thing, bringing in 11 medals, Liendo got the men on the board with a pair of individual bronzes in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
In the 50 free, Liendo absolutely annihilated Hayden’s national record of 21.34, set back in 2009, by over half a second in 20.76, winning bronze behind established names Ben Proud and Ryan Held. The time also put Liendo nearly seven-tenths under his PB coming into the meet (21.45).
On the final night of competition, Liendo went to battle with Alessandro Miressi and Held in the 100 free, winning bronze in a scorching 45.82. While that didn’t break Hayden’s super-suited Canadian Record of 45.56, it did make him the fastest teenager ever, and absolutely crushed his previous best time (coming into the meet) of 47.51.
Liendo added SC national records in Abu Dhabi in the 50 fly (22.52), placing fourth in the prelims before scratching the semis, and the 100 fly (50.00), where he qualified sixth into the semis with that time before finishing 14th overall (50.29).
He added a third medal to his haul from SC Worlds in the mixed 200 free relay, as Liendo led off in 20.94 to help the Canadians win gold in a narrow victory over the Dutch (1:28.55 to 1:28.61).
Between the national records he set at Trials, to his performances on the world’s biggest stage in Tokyo to his breakout short course showing in Abu Dhabi, Liendo has solidified himself as the best Canadian male swimmer in the world and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
In no particular order:
- Finlay Knox – One of only two male swimmers other than Liendo to break a Canadian National Record, Knox had a very strong 2021 that included making his Olympic debut, putting up points for the Toronto Titans in the ISL, and finishing things off with an individual final at SC Worlds. In early May, Knox broke a 13-year-old national record in the men’s 200 IM (LCM), clocking 1:58.88 to erase Keith Beavers’ mark of 1:59.19 from 2008. Knox lowered that down to 1:58.07 at the Canadian Olympic Trials, qualifying for his first Olympic team. After narrowly missing a second swim in Tokyo, placing 17th in the 200 IM, Knox then raced in four matches for the Titans in the ISL, scoring a total of 71 points while breaking the Canadian Record in the SC 200 IM (1:52.32). In Abu Dhabi, he placed fifth in the men’s 100 IM, breaking another national record in a time of 51.70. In the 200 IM, he again finished one spot out of earning a second swim in ninth.
- Yuri Kisil – Despite getting injured in warmup and missing the 100 free final at the Olympic Trials, Kisil earned a second consecutive berth on the Canadian Olympic team thanks to his very solid prelim swim of 48.43. In Tokyo, he was the driving force behind Canada’s surprise fourth-place finish in the men’s 400 free relay, anchoring the prelim team in 47.78 before throwing down a blistering 47.15 leg in the final. In a race full of the world’s best sprinters, that split was the third-fastest in the field. Kisil set a lifetime best in the individual 100 free at the Games, ultimately placing 15th, and then represented the Toronto Titans in the ISL, scoring 62.5 points across six match appearances. To finish things off, Kisil split 20.99 on Canada’s mixed 200 free relay at the SC World Championships in Abu Dhabi, winning his first World title.
- Brent Hayden – After coming out of retirement in 2019 with the objective of making the Canadian Olympic team, Hayden followed through on that goal despite the one-year postponement at the age of 37, winning the 50 free at the Olympic Trials in a time of 21.82. After injuring his back and being forced to withdraw from the 100 free final, which had always been his best event during his career, Hayden performed well at his fourth Olympic Games, placing ninth in the 50 free (21.82) while splitting 47.99 on the Canadian men’s 400 free relay that placed fourth. Not ready to call it quits after the Games, Hayden raced five matches for the Toronto Titans in the ISL, primarily utilized on the free relays.
- Javier Acevedo – After qualifying for his second Canadian Olympic team as a relay swimmer, Acevedo gets an Honorable Mention here after an impressive season representing the LA Current in the ISL. Acevedo, known best for his backstroking abilities in previous years, showed excellent versatility by swimming breaststroke and IM for the Current throughout the season, including breaking the 100 IM Canadian Record in the ISL Final (51.76, which was later broken by Knox at SC Worlds). He finished with a pair of third-place finishes in the ISL Final, and wrapped up the season with 87 points across seven matches. Acevedo then broke a 13-year-old national record in the SC men’s 200 butterfly at the SCAR Invite in December, clocking 1:52.93 to erase Stefan Hirniak’s 2009 mark of 1:53.43.