In the post-Olympic year, swimmers received a historic 10 nominations for honors at the 2017 ESPY Awards. The awards show, produced by ESPN, recognizes the best in sports from the prior year, with a heavy American lean, and for swimmers, especially American swimmers, that was a record-breaking year.
It’s fitting, then, that the first swimmer to win an award on Wednesday evening in Los Angeles was Michael Phelps, who won the ESPY for Best Record-Breaking Performance. Phelps won the award over 2 basketball players and a football coach, which shows the power of his Olympic medal count. In a year where Bill Belichick broke the record for championships by a coach in the highest-profile sport in the country, Russell Westbrook had an unprecedented season in the megalithic NBA, and Diana Taurusi broke an all-time scoring record, Phelps stood out among 3 who in the last year pushed themselves ahead of the best in the history of their respective sports.
For Phelps’ record, his only competition within his sport for greatest ever was himself. He entered 2016 with the record for most Olympic medals and gold medals, and by winning 5 more gold in Rio and a silver, extended both records to an unprecedented 23 and 28, respectively.
Phelps’ performance in Rio cemented his legacy – especially by the route he took to get there. He retired after the London Olympics, came back, was arrested for DUI, went to rehab, and even at 31-years old, past the age of most swimmers’ prime, re-established himself in a short time as the best male swimmer in the world. His performance in Rio effectively eliminated any complaints about how his records aren’t reasonable because of the number of medals available in swimming: Phelps was a dominant swimmer for four-straight Olympic Games. If swimming were to give out one set of medals to each gender on the totality of their performance, Phelps would have received it in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio – which highlights the breadth of his dominance as an individual sport athlete.
Phelps has been nominated for 16 ESPYs in his career, and with still more nominations to go on Wednesday, this is his 8th win.
- Bill Belichick: Most Super Bowl wins by a coach
- X — Michael Phelps: Extends his own record for most gold medals
- Diana Taurasi: Breaks WNBA career scoring record
- Russell Westbrook: Most triple doubles in a season