Well, here we are, two Mireia Belmonte World Records later, and the conversation about who really should have been FINA’s World Swimmer of the Year has grown into a bit of an uproar.
Just prior to the beginning of the 2014 World Championships, the only “open” championship meet in the world in 2014, FINA gave the honor to Hungarian Katinka Hosszu.
The initial conversation was surrounding whether the award should go to Katie Ledecky, who was the best long course swimmer in the world in 2014, or Hosszu, who was the best World Cup swimmer in the world in 2014 (and who had an impressive long course season as well).
After just one day of the World Short Course Championships, though, a third party has entered the mix: Spain’s Mireia Belmonte. She raced head-to-head with Hosszu in two individual event finals, and not only beat Hosszu in both races (200 fly and 400 IM), she broke World Records in both by a second-or-more.
Yes, Hosszu broke World Records in 5 different events this year, and has a stronger World Cup resume, but Belmonte was also very good at the European Championships – she won two golds, two silvers, and two bronzes, including one in open water. Hosszu had more wins head-to-head in Berlin, though, so that’s still probably a check mark in her column.
Belmonte is already the World Record holder in both the 400 and 800 freestyles, which she has yet to swim at this meet. If she extends her success in the 200 fly and 400 IM to the 400 free and the 800 free, there’s no way those World Records stand. She would then have a chance in the 200 IM to make it five individual gold medals and at least four World Records.
Does that stand up to Hosszu’s year, where she became the all-time winningest swimmer in FINA World Cup history? Or to Ledecky’s, where she broke World Records in three events and won 5 golds at Pan Pacs?
With three swimmers who had such wildly different years and no long course World Championship or Olympics, there’s not a clear-cut answer to the question as there was, say, that Phelps was the World Swimmer of the Year in 2008.
But it is a conversation worth having, and that will be had, as the rest of the World Championships evolve. If Hosszu wins a couple of golds and breaks a couple of records, then she’ll solidify her status. If Belmonte does that, though, the water will be even muddier.
At the very least, that conversation should have had a chance to happen – perhaps in future years, the awards season will wait until all of the considerations are in place.