2021 Swammy Awards: World Junior Male Swimmer Of The Year, Hwang Sunwoo (KOR)

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.

Honorable Mentions

  • 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.

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Justhereforfun
1 year ago

Since they are both pretty much the same in terms of times and Olympic performances, I think we should use head-to-head performances and personal accolades to decide here, and in that case Hwang takes this. If we used “untapped potential” as an argument like a lot of people here have, we should seriously consider some of the 8/9 year olds that broke age group records of previous swim stars?

Emma klarkson
1 year ago

Obviously I cannot get out of feeling that Popo is overvalued. What has he been tangibly awarded or proved but his unrealized potential??

Emma
1 year ago

Com’on Hwang rules! The others didn’t/couldn’t their potential yet. Sunwoo is the only one who keeps presenting progresses in the int’l scenes

Dee
1 year ago

Matt Richards missed out on being a junior this year by a couple of weeks – DOB is Dec 2002.

Ilya Borodin replaces him imo. Highly possible he’d be an Olympic Champ right now if he hadn’t been so unlucky in the summer, but WJRs in the 400im LC & SC is still enough to warrant a mention for me.

Neil Jones
1 year ago

Would 🇨🇦 Joshua Liendo be the 4th honorable mention? 2 Olympic semifinals, Olympic relay 4th: 51.1 100fly and 48.2? 100 free. Then 2 SC world 🥉 crushing 🇨🇦 record in 3 events, plus that leadoff leg to help the 4×50 mixed to 🥇.

Troyy
Reply to  Neil Jones
1 year ago

Needs to still be 18 at the end of the year to be classed as a junior and he already turned 19.

Rafael
Reply to  Neil Jones
1 year ago

Liendo is 19..

Chad
1 year ago

This is the most competitive group of junior stars we’ve probably ever seen. Thought Popovici would get it, but I totally support this. Well deserved.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 year ago

Guess it’s a bit of a coin flip between Hwang and Popovici.

Popovici has a faster best time in the 100 by 0.26, but was beaten by Hwang in all three rounds of the Olympics. Hwang has a faster best time than Popovici in the 200 by a few hundredths, but was beaten in the Olympic final (he does have the excuse of going out in 49 to be fair).

Also, isn’t Hwang the WJR holder in the 200 free? Popovici’s final swim was slower than Hwang’s heat time, which should be the WJR.

Mr Piano

I just feel that although they’re essentially equal in terms of swim times, being 2 years younger should probably give you some edge.

Drewbrewsbeer
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 year ago

Next year it absolutely will.

YOUJEONG SUH
Reply to  Mr Piano
1 year ago

Actually they are 1 year apart.

Mr Piano
1 year ago

Popovici showed that he’s a Phelps/Thorpe level talent at 16 this year. 47.3/1:44.6 are absolutely insane, I can’t imagine not giving him this award, as amazing as Sunwoo is.

Idk
Reply to  Retta Race
1 year ago

Fourth at olympics>gold at short course worlds sorry not up for debate

Last edited 1 year ago by Idk
dddddddd
Reply to  Idk
1 year ago

hwang got 5th at olympics ahead of chlorinedaddy

swimming435
Reply to  dddddddd
1 year ago

The truth hurts

nuotofan
Reply to  dddddddd
1 year ago

In the 100 free, but in the 200 free final Popovici was ahead of Hwang, so was a tie at Olympics.

Swim nerd
Reply to  Retta Race
1 year ago

No offense, but it’s sc world’s following an Olympic year in an event which lacked all but a few of the top swimmers in the world. Dates was out, Chalmers was out, and although he is an absolutely fantastic swimmer, you can’t say all senior international titles are equal.

Calvin
Reply to  Swim nerd
1 year ago

SC World’s isn’t at the same level of the Olympics, but Popovici did race the 200 free and didn’t advance to the semis.

nuotofan
Reply to  Calvin
1 year ago

To the final: at the SC Worlds there weren’t semis for 200 m and upper distances.

nuotofan
Reply to  Retta Race
1 year ago

Yes, but considering the whole year Popovici has had some strong performances at European level that should be counted, and so the choice is even more difficult for at least three reasons. 1) Popovici peaked his training for European Juniors (i.e. 3 weeks before Olympics), where he won 3 historical gold medals for Romania and was a main factor for silver in the 400 free relay, beyond swimming that 47.30 in the 100 free at 16 which was a true swimming bomb. So, Popovici had to hold his peak until Olympics, and this isn’t simple, we know. 2) Hwang is stronger than Popovici in SC, but also in SC Popovici won a European gold in the 200 free, before the… Read more »

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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