USA Swimming has released the list of nominees for the 2012 Golden Goggles Awards, which will return to Times Square in New York City in November.
10 awards will be given out this year, including the Humanitarian Award that is only handed out once every four years.
Online balloting accounts for 5% of the final decision, and you can choose your favorites here. (Be sure to click “other” to answer the first question).
Breakout Performer of the Year
This is always a hard award to vote on, because one has to consider perspective. For example, Breeja Larson was well-known after her freshman year at Texas A&M at the NCAA level, but nationally hadn’t yet broken through at a long course meet due to some health issues last summer. Katie Ledecky certainly broke out, though is a breakout at 15 as special as a 20-year old doing so? Even 15-year olds aren’t supposed to breakout in the way that Ledecky did. Cammile Adams was a World Championship Trials finalist in 2009, but hid away for a few years before winning the 200 fly at Trials this year, and Haley Anderson was on the 2009 World Championship team in the 800 free before winning silver in the 10km swim in open water this year.
For me, there’s one swimmer on this list who would seem to fit every perspective of breakout: Scott Weltz. He was fairly average in college, struggling to eke out enough money to keep training long after most of his level would have retired, and then exploded to an Olympic final in the 200 breaststroke. He’s got my vote.
This is the award that’s always confused me. I think the name needs to be changed, because the result usually becomes some sort of “most inspirational” category.
Ervin came back after a self-imposed 10-year hiatus from the sport to make the final of the 50 free. Very impressive and inspirational. Hardy’s nomination seems to be because she “persevered” through a doping suspension that cost her the 2008 Olympics to make the 2012 team. Tarwater took some time off from high-level swimming to swim at Oxford, and I suppose he persevered through not making the Olympic Team, and then finding out that he did. All would be worthy of a “I got a tough break, or walked away from swimming for a while but then came back” award.
To me, the one who persevered via swimming, however, was Tyler Clary. For years, in his best events, he’s been hidden behind the prodigious walls of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Instead of changing events, or walking away to pursue a career in auto racing or computer science, he doubled-down and left Michigan to go train in Fullerton. Then, after not even coming close to the two above in the 400 IM to begin Trials, he refocused himself to not only make the team in the 200 back, but knock off the huge favorite Lochte for an Olympic gold.
Coach of the Year
To me, this discussion comes down to two coaches: Bob Bowman and Teri McKeever. If NCAA swimming is factored in, McKeever’s presence on the list is obvious: she’s building possibly the biggest and baddest college swimming dynasty we’ve ever seen (though there’s still many years to pass before we can officially declare that). She was also the head coach of the 2012 Women’s Olympic Team that was unbelievable in London. Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, and Dana Vollmer all broke World Records, with Vollmer being a direct Cal result. The 400 medley got one too. Altogether, even without one ultra-versatile Phelpsian swimmer, the women won 15 medals, just one fewer than the men.
Bowman gets huge points as well, for starters because of Michael Phelps. Bowman got him refocused and returned to his throne as the world’s best swimmer. Even though he didn’t get the 7 or 8 golds we’ve seen from him in the past, he ended his career on a high note. The bigger story, however, is what Bowman did with Allison Schmitt. She was going well at Georgia, but after taking the year off to train with Bowman, Schmitt became one of the best in the world by breaking the Olympic Record in the 200 free in 1:53.61.
The edge for my vote goes to McKeever, though a betting man would play Bowman to get the honor.
Relay Performance of the Year
The four nominees are the four Olympic champion relays, but this discussion is short-and-sweet for me: World Record. The women’s 400 medley had World Record breaker Missy Franklin leading off, World Record breaker Rebecca Soni swimming 2nd, World Record breaker Dana Vollmer swimming 3rd, and just Olympic Record breaker Allison Schmitt swimming 4th. That is absolutely dominant, and it would take no less to break a World Record set in rubber suits.
Honorary mention goes to the women’s 800.
Women’s 4 x 200 Free Relay – Olympics
Men’s 4 x 200 Free Relay – Olympics
Women’s 4 x 100 Medley Relay – Olympics
Men’s 4 x 100 Medley Relay – Olympics
Female Performance of the Year
Wow – how can you give out this award? There’s three World Records in the mix; Allison Schmitt’s textile-best and Olympic Record; and the 15-year old phenomKatie Ledeckywho went after gold in the women’s 800 without any reservations, and walked away with Janet Evans’ legendary American Record.
The two that I’m looking at would be either Ledecky’s swim or Soni’s 200 breaststroke. Ledecky excited American fans about distance swimming like they haven’t been excited in 20 years. She gets bonus points simply for how she swam that 800. Both at Trials and the Olympics, she tore-off on a sprint, with nobody expecting her to be able to hold on. Both times, she did though, and even increased her lead as her opponents tired.
Soni is in the mix because she broke a magical barrier, and got the World Record twice. But in the cases of her, Dana Vollmer, and Missy Franklin they were so dominant that it’s hard to differentiate.
200m Free – Allison Schmitt – Olympics
800m Free – Katie Ledecky – Olympics
200m Back – Missy Franklin – Olympics
200m Breast – Rebecca Soni – Olympics
100m Fly – Dana Vollmer – Olympics
Male Performance of the Year
This award has to go to Ryan Lochte. Overall, he didn’t have the Olympics that I think he probably wanted, with just this one individual gold medal, but he started the Games off right with a 4:05.18 in the 400 IM that he almost made look too easy as he blew away the field. That first day swim may have overwhelmed his performance for the rest of the Games, but for that moment, Lochte was the superhuman we all expected him to be.
Nathan Adrian knocking off Australian James Magnussen in the 100 free to put the Americans back on top of an event where they once dominated, but hadn’t won gold in since 1988, was pretty special too.
100m Free – Nathan Adrian – Olympics
100m Back – Matt Grevers – Olympics
200m Back – Tyler Clary – Olympics
200m IM – Michael Phelps – Olympics
400m IM – Ryan Lochte – Olympics
Female Athlete of the Year
These are the superstar awards that can be determined almost by following the media. Who got the most headlines? Who did the most for Team USA? All four women are worthy, but in the end, the choice is clear: Missy Franklin. Buy into the hype or don’t, she took on an Olympic schedule like no American woman ever has, and came away with four golds and a bronze. She broke the World Records in both the short course and long course 200 bacsktrokes. She was the 2011 FINA World Swimmer of the Year. She genuinely captured the hearts of Americans. If she won it last year, how could she not win it this year? It would be silly to detract from any of the candidates, but this is Missy’s award.
Male Athlete of the Year
Michael Phelps. There’s no way that he doesn’t win the award. He had the best medal performance among the American men at the Olympics, so he’s absolutely earned it; but just as much, this will be a lifetime achievement honor (he’ll undoubtedly receive a real one of those at Golden Goggles as well). How can you send the Greatest of All Time out without the Male Athlete of the Year award in a season where he takes 6 Olympic medals? By the way, despite what he did in Beijing, 4 golds and 2 silvers from anyone else would go somewhere on the first few pages of the history books.
If he wins, that will break a three-year run for Ryan Lochte and also break a tie between the two at three awards each for the most ever.
There’s no surer bet for an award on this year’s list than Phelps for the Male Athlete of the Year.