To see all of our 2021 Swammy Awards, click here.
2021 WORLD JUNIOR MALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: HWANG SUNWOO (KOR)
When it comes to junior swimmers around the world, talent abounds on both the men’s and women’s sides. However, there is only one junior man who scored a World Junior Record, made two Olympic finals and also earned a World Championships title and that swimmer is South Korea’s Hwang Sunwoo.
18-year-old Hwang has been brewing beneath the surface for some time now, having earned an honorable mention in this category for or 2020 Swammy awards.
In 2021, after already notching a new Korean national record of 48.04 in the 100m free at the Korean National Trials this past May, Hwang clocked a new lifetime best of 1:44.96 to take 200m free gold. His result crushed the World Junior Record of 1:45.92, a time also owned by Hwang from November 2020.
Flashforward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Hwang made both the 100m and 200m freestyle finals, placing 5th in the former with a time of 47.82 and 7th in the latter in 1:45.26. That was after already having registered a new Asian Record of 47.56 in the semi-finals in the 100m free and also notching 1:44.62 for a new national record in the heats of the 200m free. That 1:44.62 also checked in as a new World Junior Record.
But the teen wasn’t done, setting his sights on the just-concluded FINA Short Course World Championships. There in Abu Dhabi, the teen busted out a lifetime best of 1:41.60 to take the men’s 200m free title, his first on the international senior circuit.
With Olympic champion and multi-world champion Park Tae Hwan now out of the racing picture for Korea, the nation is looking to young Hwang to carry the freestyle torch into Paris 2024 and beyond.
- David Popovici (ROU) – At 16 years of age, Popovici clocked a new 47.30 long course 100 free Romanian record and World Junior Record en route to gold at this year’s European Junior Championships. Popovici was slightly slower in Tokyo, ultimately finishing in a time of 48.04 for 7th place. The Romanian wrecking ball was perhaps even more impressive in the 200m free final. Busting out a lifetime best of 1:44.68, Popovici finished only .02 off the podium in 4th place.
- Matt Sates (RSA) – Sates was a force to be reckoned with over the course of the FINA World Cup, breaking an incredible 3 World Junior Records. The University of Georgia-bound 18-year-old crushed new marks in the 200m free at 1:40.65, the 400m free at 3:37.92 and the 200m IM at 1:51.45. He was on pace to potentially do some major damage at the FINA Short Course World Championships but was sidelined by travel restrictions preventing him from leaving South Africa.