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:
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.
- 2020 Swammy — Kasia Wasick, Poland
- 2019 Swammy — Maggie MacNeil, Canada
- 2018 Swammy — Wang Jianjiahe, China
- 2017 Swammy — Kylie Masse, Canada
- 2016 Swammy — Penny Oleksiak, Canada
- 2015 Swammy — Bronte Campbell, Australia
- 2014 Swammy — Sharon van Rouwendaal, Netherlands