2021 Swammy Awards: World Junior Female Swimmer of the Year, Lydia Jacoby

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


Of all the things that made Lydia Jacoby‘s 2021 an impressive year, the obvious highlight was her Olympic gold medal-winning 100 breaststroke swim of 1:04.95. The swim made her the one of two ‘juniors’, which is defined as those 17 & under for females and 18 & under for males, to land on an individual podium in Tokyo. The other was Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui who won the men’s 400 freestyle at the age of 18.

For her performance in Tokyo and the fact that she was the sole woman to medal in an individual event, Lydia Jacoby is this year’s Swammy award winner for World Junior Female Swimmer of the Year.

Entering 2021, Lydia Jacoby was not a completely unfamiliar name in the swimming community, but her first swim that drew widespread attention was in April 2021 at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim Series. She threw down a 1:06.99 long course 100 breaststroke to become the 5th fastest 17-18-year-old in American history. She improved to a 1:06.38 during finals, which made her the 14th-fastest American in the event in history.

A 1:06.38 was a notable swim but didn’t make her the runaway favorite to qualify for the Olympics, let alone win Olympic gold. She was the 3rd fastest entrant in the event at Olympic Trials behind world record holder Lilly King (1:04.93) and Annie Lazor (1:06.03). At age 17, Jacoby was the only junior who had an entry time under 1:08 as Emma Weber sat in 15th place with a 1:08.04.

Jacoby started things off at Trials with a 1:06.40 for 4th place overall in the prelims, followed by a PB of 1:05.71 in the semi-finals to qualify in third for the final. She was the youngest entrant in the final by roughly 7 years but managed to pull off a second-place finish of 1:05.28 to Lilly King‘s 1:04.79.

Some will remember that the unique women’s 100 breaststroke Olympic Trials final featured 9 women instead of 8 when Molly Hannis‘s semi’s DQ got overturned. That means that Jacoby defeated not 6, but 7 seasoned veterans to become one of the USA’s youngest new Olympians.

Having cleared the first hurdle en route to Olympic gold, Jacoby kept up the momentum in Tokyo with a 1:05.52 in the heats, followed by a 1:05.72 during semi-finals. She has swum her way into the Olympic final but would be up against reigning champion and world record holder King, newly minted Olympic record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker, and a host of other breaststroke stars in Yuliya Efimova, Sophie Hansson, Evgeniia Chikunova, Martina Carraro, and Mona McSharry.

It was, in the end, Jacoby’s race. After having broken 1:07 for the first time just a few months prior, Lydia Jacoby stormed to victory in a 1:04.95 to shatter her own PB and become an Olympic champion at her first-ever major international meet. The 17-year-old Alaskan had etched her name into the history books and just like that had become this year’s World Junior Female Swimmer of the Year.

Following her victory in Tokyo, Jacoby returned to swim in the final of the 4×100 medley relay and contributed to the USA’s silver medal performance along with Regan Smith, Torri Huske, and Abbey Weitzeil.

Honorable Mentions

  • Claire Curzan (USA) – Claire Curzan was another American junior who had a stellar 2021. She swam to sub-world junior record swims in mid-2021 when she posted a 24.17 50 freestyle and a 56.20 100 butterfly. Those were quicker than Rikako Ikee and Penny Oleksiak‘s respective marks of 24.17 and 56.46 but were not ratified as official world junior records. Curzan qualified to race at the Tokyo Olympics when she placed second in the 100 butterfly (56.43) to Torri Huske (55.66). That swim by Curzan was again faster than Oleksiak’s WJR and is currently pending FINA approval to be listed as an official mark. Curzan finished 10th in the 100 fly in Tokyo with a 57.42 but still walked away with a relay silver medal courtesy of her prelims swim on the 4×100 medley relay. Curzan capped off her year with 2 bronze medals at Short Course Worlds in the 50 and 100 butterfly, both in world junior record time (24.55/55.39) and 4 relay medals.
  • Evgeniia Chikunova (RUS) – Russia’s Evgeniia Chikunova qualified to race both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at the Olympics this year. Notably, in the 200 breast, she beat out compatriot Yuliya Efimova who already had 2 Olympic medals in that event to her name from 2012 and 2016. Chikunova came as close as she could to medalling in both events at the Games but ultimately came away empty-handed following 2 4th place finishes. After a solid Olympic berth, Chikunova demonstrated her dominance in the short course pool. In November 2021 she notched a new SC world junior record of 2:16.88 (improving upon her own 2:17.71 from 2019). That WJR won her 200 breast gold at the 2021 Short Course European Championships and she also claimed silver in the 100 there. She wrapped up the year with a World Championships silver in the 200 breast with a 2:17.88 to Emily Escobedo’s 2:18.85.
  • Yu Yiting (CHN) – Just like Curzan and Chikunova, Yu Yiting of China had a strong performance all around in 2021. She qualified to race for China at the Tokyo Olympics in both the 200 and 400 IMs. While she missed out on the 400 IM final by a few seconds, she got herself into the 200 IM final with a 2:09.72 semi-final swim and ultimately placed 5th overall at the Games in a 2:09.57. That swim for Yiting was just a second slower than Yui Ohashi’s winning 2:08.52 and half a second off Kate Douglass’ 2:09.04 for bronze. The swim was also good enough to take out Rikako Ikee‘s 2:09.98 world junior record from back in 2017. At the 2021 World Short Course Championships, Yuting took silver in the 200 IM in world junior record fashion of 2:04.48.
  • Benedetta Pilato (ITA) – The 2020 winner of this award Benedetta Pilato was the only junior this year to deliver a world record-breaking performance when she notched a 29.30 50 breaststroke at the European Championships. That swim shaved 0.10 seconds off Lilly King‘s 2017 mark of 29.40 and made her the fastest long course 50 breaststroker of all time. After that performance, Pilato traveled to Tokyo to take part in her first Olympics but that experience got cut short after she got DQd during the 100 breaststroke prelims. Pilato was solid as a member of the International Swimming League’s Energy Standard and picked up a number of top 3 finishes throughout the season. She contributed to the team’s season 3 victory. Pilato picked up 3 international medals this fall including 50 breast silver at the 2021 Short Course European Championships, along with a 50 breast silver and 4×50 medley bronze at Short Course Worlds.

Past Winners:

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1 year ago

Lydia was the Cinderella story of Olympic swimming.

She swam faster at every meet and shocked the world and herself.

The Alaska watch party exploded with excitement and joy as Lydia inched into the lead down the stretch and touched first.

1 year ago

2022 – Summer McIntosh

1 year ago

Typo – says Lydia Jacoby, Italy in the past winners chart

1 year ago

That Summer McIntosh wasn’t even mentioned in this article about Junior Female Swimmer is just negligent

Reply to  CanSwim
1 year ago

I think she deserved an honourable mention, maybe over Yiting

Big Mac #1
Reply to  CanSwim13
1 year ago

Can you remind me if little Mac set a wjr?

Reply to  Big Mac #1
1 year ago

She was fourth at the Olympics at 14…missed a medal by half a second. Her ISL season showed insane versatility and speed, a wjr isnt needed to put her among the best juniors in the world.

Reply to  Noah
1 year ago

is that a yes or a no about WJRs?

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Big Mac #1
1 year ago

McIntosh has Ledecky, the most accomplished teenage female swimmer this century, to contend with for the WJR lmao. Just a casual 3:58 is needed.

Reply to  CanSwim13
1 year ago

No issues with Yiting but completely agree that McIntosh was worthy of an Honorable Mention.

Worthy of some consideration would also be O’Callaghan. Granted no individual swims, which may/may not be considered as criteria, but 3 medals including 2 golds. All of them heat swims but each of her splits would’ve seen her in the finals line-up of every other country !

Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

Absolutely about O’Callaghan who lead off 4×200 relay in heats in Tokyo with a WJR 1:55.1. Mcintosh also 1:55 lead off, not a WJR but nearly 3 seconds faster than Woodhead’s NAG still stands from 1978.

Reply to  commonwombat
1 year ago

Yep, Lydia Jacoby worthy winner, but both Summer Mcintosh & Mollie O’Callaghan were standouts. Both deserved honorable mentions.
These 2 are going to challenge Titmus & Haughty in the 200 in the coming years.

Last edited 1 year ago by Robbos
Reply to  Robbos
1 year ago

Haughty 🤣

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  CanSwim13
1 year ago

Yiting has better chance to win a world title than McIntosh next year.