2021 U.S. FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: KATIE LEDECKY
After a two-year hiatus from winning this award, Katie Ledecky is once again the winner of the Swammy for US Female Swimmer of the Year.
Ledecky certainly wasn’t uncontested in this category, facing a strong Olympic performance from Lydia Jacoby, a dominant age-group season from Torri Huske, and a World Record-breaking short course season from Kelsi Dahlia. Ultimately, however, Ledecky proved to be one of the United States’ most valuable Olympic performers, taking home two golds and two silvers in Tokyo. She was the only US swimmer on the women’s side to win two individual events, joining Caeleb Dressel and Bobby Finke as the only US swimmers to win multiple individual events at the Games.
Ledecky’s third Olympic Games did not start off flawlessly, as she lost her first race in a tight battle with Australian rival Ariarne Titmus. Going into the event, Ledecky had never lost an individual race at the Olympic Games. However, in the 400 freestyle, Titmus proved a formidable opponent, as the two posted some of the fastest performances in history in the event. Titmus’ time of 3:56.69 nearly broke Ledecky’s own world record of 3:56.46, while Ledecky placed second in a blistering 3:57.36. Despite losing out on the gold medal, Ledecky’s time still marked the second-fastest performance of her career, having only been faster in 2016.
Following her battle with Titmus in the 400 freestyle, Ledecky easily bested the field in the inaugural edition of the 1500 freestyle at the Olympics, setting the first Olympic record in the event. Ledecky’s time of 15:37.34 bested runner up Erica Sullivan by over 4 seconds, despite being off of her own world record of 15:20.28. Ledecky also managed to pick up a silver medal anchoring the US women’s 4×200 freestyle relay with a blistering 1:53.76 split, surpassing the Australian team in the process. Even with a second-place finish, the American contingent managed to dip under the former world record set by China in 2009 during the super-suit era.
In her final race of the competition, Ledecky once again swam head-to-head against Titmus, getting her hand to the wall first this time in the women’s 800 freestyle. Ledecky held off a late charge by Titmus to touch in a time of 8:12.79, a second ahead of her Australian rival. With her gold medal performance, Ledecky became only the third woman ever to three-peat in an event at the Olympic Games and with her 7 total gold medals across all 3 Olympics she’s competed in, Ledecky became the most decorated female swimmer in Olympic history.
In no particular order
- Lydia Jacoby – 17-year-old Alaskan Lydia Jacoby was one of the breakout performers of Tokyo, as she managed to fend off Olympic Record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker and world record holder Lilly King to win gold in the 100 breaststroke in Tokyo. Jacoby also picked up a silver medal as a member of the US women’s 4×100 medley relay team, capping off a successful Olympic campaign. Not only was she the only other US female swimmer to win an individual event, but she also became the first Olympic swimmer from Alaska. Jacoby’s rise to the Olympic stage earned her “Breakout Performer of the Year” honors at USA Swimming’s 2021 Golden Goggle Awards.
- Kelsi Dahlia – Despite failing to qualify for the US Olympic Team, Kelsi Dahlia had a fantastic SCM season competing in the International Swimming League. After dancing around the American record in the 100 butterfly all season, Dahlia exploded in the ISL finale to capture her first individual world record in the event, posting a blistering 54.59 in the process. During that meet, Dahlia also contributed to an unofficial world record in the mixed 4×100 medley relay, contributing a 54.97 split on the butterfly leg. Interestingly, Dahlia now holds the most current world records of any female swimmer, tied with Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom with a total of 5 across LCM and SCM.
- Torri Huske – After rising through the age group rankings and earning herself several medals at the 2019 World Junior Championships, Torri Huske looked poised to make her mark in 2021, and she did not disappoint. After trading some of the fastest swims in American history in the 100 butterfly with fellow age-grouper Claire Curzan, Huske exploded to take down Dana Vollmer’s American record in the event at the US Olympic Trials. She later lowered it to a 55.66 in a historic 100 butterfly final in Tokyo where Huske found herself off the podium by .01. Despite failing to medal individually, Huske did pick up a silver medal as a member of the US women’s 4×100 medley relay.