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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.
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.