This is the first ESPY nomination for both Austin and Smith, who are both members of Team USA for the 2021 Paralympic Games.
Austin is a three-time Paralympian, who swims under the S7, SB6, and SM7 classifications. He was born with spastic paraplegia, which is a “rare inherited disorder that cause weakness and stiffness in the leg muscles,” according to NHS. Austin is the reigning S7 World Champion in the 50m butterfly, and he set American records in both the 200m and 400m freestyle this year.
Tokyo will be Smith’s first Paralympic Games, as she began swimming in 2013 following her diagnosis with dystonia in 2012. According to the Mayo Clinic, dystonia is a “movement disorder in which your muscles contract involuntarily, causing repetitive or twisting movements.” Smith is a 3x World Championship, competing in the S4, SB4, and SM4 classes. At the 2021 US Paralympic Trials, Smith set a new world record in the S3 50m backstroke with her time of 54.20.
Best Athlete With a Disability – Male
- Evan Austin, swimming
- Jesse Billauer, surfing
- Keith Gabel, snowboarding
- Chris Nikic, triathlon
Best Athlete With a Disability – Female
- Sam Bosco, Cycling
- Oksana Masters, Cycling
- Becca Murray, wheelchair language
- Leanne Smith, swimming
The ESPY Awards, which stand for Excellence in Sports Yearly, is ESPN‘s annual awards program. The majority of the awards, including the one that Ledecky was nominated for, are decided in part by an online fan vote. Winners will be announced during the annual awards show on July 21st.
- Vote for your favorite at ESPYS.com.
Traditionally, it has been rare for swimmers to be nominated for ESPY awards in non-Olympic years. Katie Ledecky was the last swimmer to be nominated in 2018, when she was nominated in the category “Best Collegiate Athlete.” In 2017, following the 2016 Olympic Games, swimmers were nominated for a total of 10 awards, winning 3 of them.
Other Swimmers Who Have Won ESPY Awards:
- Missy Franklin won an ESPY for Best Female College Athlete in 2015. Katinka Hosszu, Natalie Coughlin, Caitlin Leverenz, Dana Vollmer, Kara Lynn Joyce, Tara Kirk, and Natalie Coughlin (twice) have also been nominated for that award.
- No male swimmer has ever been nominated for Best Male College Athlete (first awarded in 2002).
- Dara Torres won for Best Comeback in 2009 after she qualified for the U.S. team at the 2008 Summer Olympics at 41-years old ,where she won 3 silver medals.
- Erin Popovich, Jessica Long, Erin Popovich again, Mallory Weggemann, Jessica Long two more times, and most recently Rebecca Meyers in 2015 and 2017 have all won Best Female Athlete with a Disability awards. Swimmers have won 8 of the 12 awards given in this category. Triathlon has won 2, and no other sport has won more than once.
- Swimmers have been nominated for Best Male Athlete with a Disability 5 times, but have never won. That includes two-straight nominations for Brad Snyder in 2016 and 2017.
- The U.S. Men’s 400 free relay at the 2008 Summer Olympics won for Best Moment in 2009 (the “Lezak” relay).
- Michael Phelps won “Best Record-Breaking Performance” three times – in 2009 for his 8 gold medals in Beijing; in 2013 for becoming the most decorated modern Olympian ever in London; and in 2017 for extending that record in Rio.