2021 Swammy Awards: Female Breakout Swimmer of the Year – Lydia Jacoby

2021 Female Breakout Swimmer of the Year – Lydia Jacoby 

Although there were many swimmers who benefited from the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, none saw a greater rise in 2021 than American teenager Lydia Jacoby

Jacoby entered 2021 as a relatively unknown name on the senior level. Yes, she was a member of the US National Junior Team in 2019, but she had never competed at an international competition. Then, at the Pro Swim Series in April, Jacoby turned heads when she threw down a time of 1:06.38 in the 100 breaststroke, finishing second only to world record holder and defending Olympic Champion Lilly King, beating National team member Annie Lazor in the process. Although her time certainly didn’t put her in contention for an Olympic podium, it definitely hinted that she could challenge for a spot on the US Olympic Team that June. 

With momentum on her side following several other strong performances throughout the first half of 2021, Jacoby entered Olympic Trials a dark horse pick to make the Olympic Team in the 100 breast, one of the most crowded fields at the entire meet. Despite being one of the youngest swimmers in the field at only 17-years-old, Jacoby maintained a poised performance in Ohama, cruising through prelims before dropping a best time of 1:05.71 in semi-finals to qualify 3rd for the final. Then, Jacoby unleashed another best time in finals, dropping a 1:05.28 to finish second behind King and qualify for her first Olympic Team. 

In Tokyo, Jacoby carried herself through the first two rounds of the 100 breaststroke with the same poise that she showed at Trials, qualifying 3rd for the event’s finals. During finals, Jacoby swam a relatively controlled first 50, hanging right with King and South African Tatjana Schoenmaker. Then, on the final 15 meters of the race, Jacoby made her move, sprinting ahead of a fading King and Schoenmaker to touch the wall first in a time of 1:04.95, winning Olympic gold. 

What’s sets Jacoby apart from the rest of the field is not simply her Olympic gold, but also how improbable her rise to the top of the Olympic podium was. Since mid-2019, Jacoby has dropped almost 5 seconds off of her best time in the 100 breast, going from 1:09.62 to 1:04.95, dropping 2 seconds from April to July of 2021. At the end of 2020, Jacoby was only ranked 27th in the world in the 100 breaststroke, and 7th in the United States, giving her a slim chance of even finaling in Omaha. 


Lydia Jacoby’s 100 Breaststroke Time Progression: 

Date Time
7/26/21 1:04.95
6/15/21 1:05.29
6/14/21 1:05.71
4/8/2021 (finals) 1:06.38
4/8/2021 (prelims) 1:06.99
11/13/2020 1:07.57
8/6/2019 1:08.12
8/3/2019 1:09.62

Honorable Mentions: 

In no particular order

  • Tatjana Schoenmaker – The aforementioned Schoenmaker had a very successful campaign in Tokyo, highlighted by an Olympic gold medal and world record in the 200 breaststroke. Schoenmaker was not completely unknown entering the Olympic Games, having won the 100 and 200 breaststroke at the 2019 World University Games. At that meet, Schoenmaker swam times of 1:06.42 and 2:22.92 in those events, respectively. Less than two years later, Schoenmaker swam times of 1:04.82 and 2:18.95 in the same events in Tokyo, posting huge best times in both events, with her 200 breaststroke time setting a world record. In addition, Schoenmaker’s success in Tokyo highlighted a huge increase in success for the South African Swimming Federation, which sent 0 female athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games
  • Summer McIntosh – 15-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh was arguably one of the biggest benefactors from the delayed Olympic Games. At only 14-year-old, McIntosh turned heads in 2021, breaking several Canadian records in the distance freestyle events, including a 4:05.13 in the 400 freestyle in May, the fastest swim ever by a 14 and under swimmer. After qualifying for Tokyo at a successful Canadian Olympic Trials, McIntosh turned heads in Tokyo by placing 4th in the 400 freestyle final, just missing a spot on the podium. Before entering high school, McIntosh also made an appearance on the 4×200 freestyle relay for Canada, which also placed 4th overall. Despite not making the podium, McIntosh ended her Olympic campaign with 2 fourth-place finishes and 2 Canadian records. She then followed up with a record-breaking ISL season in the SCM pool, and won 3 medals at the SC World Championships. 

Previous Winners: 


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Seward Tsunami Swim Club
2 years ago

Congratulations LYDIA! Well deserved! Alaska and your hometown are so proud!!!

Reply to  Seward Tsunami Swim Club
2 years ago

Absolutely! Congratulations. How tall is Lydia?

Graham Wardell
Reply to  Biden4dogcatcher
2 years ago

Tall enough to win Olympic Gold 😅🤣😂!

2 years ago

If you consider Schoenmaker as having a breakout then obviously she should’ve won but it seems to me that she’d already broken out at 2019 Worlds and even Comm Games so probably shouldn’t even have a mention here.

Reply to  Troyy
2 years ago

she was nominated 3 years ago so she shouldn’t have been nominated this time

Reply to  McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
2 years ago

Good find! If you eliminate Schoenmaker this article is very short on honourable mentions.

2 years ago

I think Grimes might deserve HM too? her best time of 2020 was 8:45 and coming into trials, the only time she had ever broken 8:40 in 2019. She then dropped over 10 seconds from her season best in both prelims and finals at OT and then a couple more seconds at the actual Olympics

Last edited 2 years ago by jeff
Reply to  jeff
2 years ago

I would say that Grimes is even more so than McIntosh, given that she had been a star for a while and was A-finaling at PSS when she was 13 or so.

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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