2021 Swammy Awards: Female Swimmer of the Year – Emma McKeon

by Spencer Penland 19

January 06th, 2022 2021 Swammy Awards, News

To see all of our 2021 Swammy Awards, click here.

2021 FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: EMMA MCKEON

Australian superstar Emma McKeon gave us an all-time Olympic performance in Tokyo, winning 4 Gold medals and 3 Bronze. The 7-medal performance made McKeon the first female to win 7 or more medals at a single Olympics in any sport. She’s the fourth person ever to accomplish such a feat, but the first non-American, as American swimmers Michael Phelps, Matt Biodi, and Mark Spitz are the only other people in history to do so.

Out of her 7 medal-winning races, McKeon broke a record in 6 of them. Beginning with the 4×100 free relay, where the Australian team shattered the World Record, thanks in large part to McKeon’s 51.35 on the 3rd leg, which was the only sub-:52 split in the field. She would go on to swim under 52 seconds again in the individual 100 free, winning Gold with a new Oceanic and Olympic Record time of 51.96.

The sprint juggernaut would also claim individual Gold in the 50 free, swimming a 23.81 to clip the Olympic Record. Her 4th Olympic Gold came in the 4×100 medley relay, where her 55.93 fly split was pivotal in chipping into the USA’s lead, and holding off 100 fly Gold medalist Maggie MacNeil of Canada. The Aussies would go on to beat the U.S. by just 0.13 seconds, breaking the Olympic Record and Oceanic Record. In McKeon’s other individual event, the 100 fly, she swam a 55.72, breaking the Australian and Oceanic Records, and grabbing the Bronze medal.

In a 4×200 free relay final in which the top 3 teams all swam under the previous World Record of 7:41.50, Australia earned the Bronze medal with a 7:41.29. McKeon swam 2nd on the Aussie relay, splitting 1:55.31, which was the 6th-fastest time in the field. The Australian team still broke the Australian and Oceanic Record.

With McKeon’s Olympic performance, she’s now tied Australian legend Ian Thorpe for the most Olympic Gold swimming medals in Australian history, with 5 apiece. her 11 total Olympic medals now makes her the most decorated Australian Olympian in history.

McKeon continued her success into the fall, competing at all 4 stops of the 2021 FINA World Cup. Across the 4 stops, McKeon was the highest-scoring swimmer, male or female, saying “I am in pretty in good shape now. The preparations, which I took for the Olympics, still pay off.” In total, McKeon won 14 medals at the 2021 World Cup, 10 of which were Gold.

HONORABLE MENTION

In no particular order

  • Ariarne Titmus, AUS – Best known for her epic battles with the once-invincible Katie Ledecky, Titmus went up against Ledecky three times in Tokyo, winning two of those encounters. She had an incredible final 50 in the 200 free final to get her hand on the wall first, swimming a 1:53.50 for a new Olympic Record. Then, in the highly-anticipated 400 free final, Titmus bode her time well, taking over and beating out Ledecky. Titmus broke the Oceanic Record with a 3:56.69, marking the 2nd-fastest performance all-time in the event. Titmus also grabbed a Silver in the 800 free, swimming a new Oceanic Record of 8:13.83. She also earned a Bronze medal in the 4×200 free relay, leading the Australian squad in 1:54.51.
  • Kaylee McKeown, AUS – Not to be overshadowed by her Australian teammates, reigning Female Swimmer of the Year Kaylee McKeown won 3 Gold medals and 1 Bronze in Tokyo. The Bronze came in the 4×100 mixed medley relay, where McKeown led off in 58.14. She swept the backstroke events in Tokyo, breaking the Olympic Record in the 100 back final with a 57.47, narrowly missing her World Record of 57.45, which she swam at the Australian Olympic Trials in June. McKeown would also go on to win the 200 back in 2:04.68, touching first by nearly a full second. McKeown also led off the Australian 4×100 women’s medley relay in 58.01. The relay went on to break the Olympic Record and Oceanic Record.
  • Katie Ledecky, USA – Ledecky is a 4-time recipient of the Female Swimmer of the Year Swammy, and with her 2021 efforts, she’s earned an Honorable Mention spot. Although Ledecky wasn’t the star of the Tokyo Olympics, like she was at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 24-year-old still earned a very impressive 4 medals, including 2 more Golds and 2 Silvers. She won her 3rd consecutive Olympic Gold in the 800 free, becoming the first woman in history to 3-peat in the event. Ledecky also won the inaugural Olympic women’s 1500 free, of course setting the Olympic Record in the process. She also did so just an hour after the 200 free final, marking a grueling double for the veteran. She came in 2nd in the 400 free to an on-fire Ariarne Titmus, but still posted the 4th-fastest performance of all-time in the event. Ledecky was also on the U.S. 4×200 free relay, which earned Silver and Broke the American record.
  • Yui Ohashi, JPN – Representing the host country of Japan, then 25-year-old Yui Ohashi made the most of her Olympic opportunities, sweeping the women’s IM events. It started on night 1 with the 400 IM final, where Ohashi was able to hold on to the lead and get her hand on the wall first with a 4:32.08. She then had a slight scare in the 200 IM, finishing 10th in prelims, then 5th in finals, but she managed to advance both times. Again, Ohashi made the most out of her opportunity to race in the final, narrowly beating out the United States’ Alex Walsh for Gold.
  • Tatjana Schoenmaker, RSA – Also a candidate for Breakout Femal Swimmer of the Year, Schoenmaker had truly incredible Olympic Games. Qualifying for her first Olympics in both the breaststroke events, Schoenmaker kicked off her meet with a Silver medal in the 100 breast, touching 2nd only to Lydia Jacoby, who won our Female Breakout Swimmer of the Year Award. With the swim, she still beat out the defending Olympic Champ and World Record holder Lilly King. In prelims, she swam a 1:04.82, which would be the fastest time swum in the event in Tokyo, and broke the Olympic Record and African Record with the swim. It was the 200 breast, however, where Schoenmaker really made her mark. She swam a 2:18.95, pacing her race perfectly to run down Lilly King, who would ultimately take Silver. Schoenmaker broke the World Record, taking it under 2:19, and by virtue of the World Record, it was also an Olympic Record and African Record.

PAST WINNERS

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marklewis
4 months ago

It would be great to see Emma break a LCM world record before her career ends. She’s at the top of her game now so maybe this year at Worlds. She’s a couple tenths away in the 50 and 100 freestyle and a little further in the 100 fly.

Sub13
Reply to  marklewis
4 months ago

She set the second fastest LCM and SCM 100 free of all time this year. So close in both!

Troyy
Reply to  marklewis
4 months ago

They should’ve lead her off on the relay on day 1 to give her a crack at the WR ala Sjostrom in 2017.

Honest Observer
4 months ago

McKeon was incredible this year, but still feel a little as if she was getting too much of a boost from her relay swims. Individually, she won two golds and a bronze. There were two other swimmers, Titmus and Ledecky, who each won two golds and a silver individually. Relay medals have always been a sort of bonus for those who swim the right events and who happen to come from a strong swimming nation (usually the US).

For instance, if in ’16 Hosszu had been an American citizen, she would have won five golds and a silver, instead of her three individual golds and individual silver, since she undoubtedly would have swum the backstroke leg of the MR… Read more »

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

Well ledecky got 2 WR and hosszu got 1 and ledecky didn’t get beaten individually in 2016

CanSwim13
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

What is your point? Who would you have chosen instead?

Honest Observer
Reply to  CanSwim13
4 months ago

Honestly? I’m not sure. My point is that relay swimmers from big swimming countries tend to get too much credit for the number of medals they get. A more obvious example: who was the greater swimmer, Jenny Thompson or Krisztina Egerszegi? Thompson has twelve Olympic medals, eight of which were gold, vs. Egerszegi having seven medals, five of which were gold, and all of which came in individual events. This is not to criticize Thompson, who was an incredible swimmer, and won individual golds at the World Championships. But if you go purely by number of gold medals….Anyway, this year was a tough call. The case for Titmus would be that her best individual performances were more impressive: she missed… Read more »

jeff
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

I think that McKeon would still deserve it with her SCM performance, but without that, my pick would probably be Titmus too. Having the 2nd and 3rd fastest swims all time in two events where everyone else is still far from the WR is a huge deal imo, in addition to the fact that in over 13 years, she’s the only one besides Ledecky who’s been able to crack Adlington’s old WR

Last edited 4 months ago by jeff
Robbos
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

I think Titmus makes a very good case, so too does McKeown & also Ledecky.
I think this year we were blessed with 4 great swimmers at the Olympics.
Fully understand it’s all a matter of opinions, but the relays for the sprinters are because they are the most competitive & exciting races.
Hosszu is a very good example, great swimmer & multi event winner, but does her name outside of swimming fans ring out as loud as say Cate Campbell, Sjostrom, Manuel, McKeon.
Whether we like or not the 100 free, like the 100 metres in Athletics the premier event.

Uh huh
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

And no one says anything about getting boosted by relays when MP won 8 golds

jeff
Reply to  Uh huh
4 months ago

there’s no point when his 5 individual gold count is unprecedented, especially when he set the WR in 4 of them and the OR in the 5th

Sub13
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

All relay swims are not equal. She was the fastest split in the field for the 100 free relay which broke a world record, and made her the second fastest 100 freestyle splitter of all time behind Cate Campbell. She then swam fly in the medley relay, which is clearly a weaker stroke for her than free, and still resulted in a gold medal and Olympic record.

If Emma was swimming subpar and was carried to medals by her team mates (Eg like a certain unvaccinated American) then I could see the argument, but that’s not the case. Even the 200 free, which was her “worst” relay swim, she was second fastest on her team and in the top quarter… Read more »

jeff
Reply to  Sub13
4 months ago

I don’t think their argument was that McKeon doesn’t deserve swimmer of the year, just that they think that relays medals are given too much credit, which I agree with. It’s not criticism, it’s just recognizing that not all gold medals are equal, at least when using the amount of medals to compare swimmers. If Sjostrom had swam her PBs from Budapest for example, I definitely would think that she deserves the award over McKeon even though her medal count would’ve been much less.

Sub13
Reply to  jeff
4 months ago

Yes, if SS swam all her PBs in Tokyo she would have won three individual golds plus an individual bronze and Emma would have won only two silvers (plus lost a bronze in 100 fly), so SS obviously would have been swimmer of the year. In that case SS has the most golds of any female though so it’s kind of a different situation entirely.

I agree that a relay gold is not equal to an individual gold when determining the swimmer of the year. But it is a relevant consideration and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand like it is being above. Some swimmers plan their Olympics around relays, and some swimmers carry their teams through relays. SS only… Read more »

Robbos
Reply to  jeff
4 months ago

See funny you should say that Sjostrom swam her best in Budapest in a leadoff to a relay where Sweden came 5th, no pressure. As a matter of fact SS’s best times in the 100 free were in relays & Mare Nostrum, while Mckeon best times were in the Olympics.

jeff
Reply to  Robbos
4 months ago

my point is not that relay swims shouldn’t matter, its that stacking up medals for the same event through relays should make successive medals “less” important. Take Regan Smith’s 100 back leadoff in 2019; I think her gold medal from that swim is pretty much as impressive as a gold in the individual 100 back would be, but if she had swam the individual 100 back and also won gold in that, the two golds would not be as impressive to me as someone who won two golds by swimming two different events

Biased Aussie
Reply to  Honest Observer
4 months ago

I feel like it could have easily gone to Kaylee again. The women’s 100 backstroke was one of the most hotly contended races in Tokyo with the OR going down 3 times in a row in the heats. Along with her 3 gold and 1 bronze in Tokyo she also had the fastest 200IM of the year, if she schedule was better she potentially could have had 3 individual gold.

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
4 months ago

Interesting that swimswam picks Haughey over Ohashi as Asian female of the year, but has Ohashi not Haughey as HM of world female of the year.

McKeown-Hodges-McKeon-Campbell
Reply to  Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
4 months ago

I remember them using some semantics for the 2015 mens awards, where peaty was world male because he was the best at worlds, while paltrinieri was european male because he was the best at euros. maybe because ohashi won 2 olympic golds while haughey broke like 10 asian records?