USA Swimming announced its 2023 Golden Goggles ballot on Wednesday and opened fan voting
Note that these votes are based on who we think should win, not who we think will win, though we’ve tried to indicate our predicted winner for each award as well.
- Vote for your favorite swimmers and coaches here. Voting is open through October 15.
The 2022 Golden Goggles Awards show will be held on November 19, 2023 in Los Angeles.
This year is a bit of an odd year for nominations. While the awards have always been heavily (read: exclusively) focused on the Operation Gold meet for the year, they’ve also always had a “gold medal” bent. It was hard to get nominated for a Race or Swimmer of the Year award without a gold medal.
But with the US scoring a historic-low 7 gold medals this year (but still leading the field with 38 total medals), USA Swimming has nominated a number of non-gold medalists for awards this season in categories where that was historically a non-starter.
A further rare case included the nomination of Ashley (Twichell) Wall for the Perseverance Award without even qualifying for the World Championships.
With all of that in mind, below we’ve highlighted who we think should win each award. I’ll try and point out where that differs from who I think will win each award.
- SwimSwam’s Choice denoted below
BREAKOUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the athlete whose performance(s) stand out in relation to other years, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
This is the one that American swim fans are most revved up about, because while the usual names weren’t at their best at Worlds, there were a lot of impressive new faces.
It’s always hard to allocate ‘expectation’ to this award. Thomas Heilman is very young, and got 4th in the 200 fly, but didn’t medal, and has been on this trajectory for a while. Grimes is also young and won medals in the pool and open water, which adds another layer to this.
So this award comes down to your personal criteria. I think based on achievement, the favorite is clearly Grimes. But based on expectation that is inherent to a ‘breakout’ award, it has to be one of the Cal boys for me. I’ll go with Alexy.
COACH OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the coach whose athlete(s) performed at the highest level throughout the year, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Three training groups were responsible for all five of the American individual gold medals at Worlds: Florida/Anthony Nesty (Katie Ledecky); Cal/Dave Durden (Ryan Murphy and Hunter Armstrong); and Virginia (Kate Douglass).
Aitken continued to get the job done with the younger swimmers, which if this were a more holistic award would carry more weight, I think. Bowman had one of the top three swimmers in the world, but it was a Frenchman. His crew at Arizona State had a lot of other successes down the roster (Lindsay Looney, Jonny Kulow), but these awards are by their nature top-heavy awards (should they be?).
So I think it’s down to the above three. With Cal getting some veterans in Murphy and Armstrong to gold, plus some badly-needed surprises in Rose and Alexy, and coaching three of the four legs of the badly-needed gold medal men’s medley relay to close the meet, it’s gotta be Durden.
RELAY PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the best team relay performance, male or female. The performance considered must be a finals performance, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
- 4x100m women’s medley
- 4x100m men’s medley (SwimSwam Official Pick)
- 4x200m women’s free
We can all eliminate, I think, the women’s 800 free relay. With Australia dominating that race, it wouldn’t make sense to give it the nod over the gold medal medleys.
The medley relays were both significant in terms of mood of the meet. The wins helped pull the US out of the bottom of the slump. The men’s meet broke the Championship Record, which is a fair tie-breaker.
I think when push comes to shove, the men’s medley winning gold and breaking a record without Caeleb Dressel makes it really important. That’s my pick.
FEMALE RACE OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the female swimmer with the greatest single individual race of the year, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Something tells me that the official committee that receives most of the vote will give Grimes a lot of weight for making the Olympic team, but in absence of any kind of wild non-gold medal support, I’m going to limit this to just Douglass’ 200 IM and Ledecky’s 1500 free.
If Douglass wins the ‘race of the century’ with Kaylee McKeown, that would be a slam dunk. The McKeown DQ soured it a bit, thought that’s not her fault – and she might have won anyway. But for now, seeing Ledecky back close to her full power in this race was too much fun.
MALE RACE OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the male swimmer with the greatest single individual race of the year, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
IDK, do we just give it to the only male gold medalist an Olympic event, Murphy? Is it too much to give Alexy this and Breakout in the same year? Do we give Finke credit for racing a really good field?
Would this have been the year to make an exception and allow Hunter Armstrong in for his non-Olympic gold in the 50 back?
I think I’ll give my vote to Finke. I don’t have much fight for anyone who disagrees. Murphy’s gold probably wins it.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the top female swimmer of the year with special emphasis on achievements at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Two individual golds does it for me with Ledecky, though I think we shouldn’t understate how much value Douglass brought to Team USA with her relay performances.
Regan Smith had a really good year. Her times just didn’t hit at Worlds as well as Trials, so if she flips that next year, this is her award to lose in Paris.
I’m kind of talking myself into Regan. 4 individual medals and a relay gold? I think the reason to stick with Ledecky is to not do that thing that every swimfan on earth does which is to discount Ledecky’s achievements because she wins those races every year.
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the top male swimmer of the year with special emphasis on achievements at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Again, no clear front-runner here. Murphy’s individual gold gives him a big leg up, but if we remove ranking from the equation, I think Finke’s times were the most impressive.
So I’m going to give the nod to Finke in my vote. But I won’t be mad about anybody who picks Murphy, and I suspect the might win it as the gold medalists (though the kind of people who get the big votes for these things do love distance swimmers).
This award is given to the athlete who came back from adversity, retirement, sickness, injury, etc., to have an outstanding performance(s) in 2023, with special emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
For those who have read 11 years of me doing this, you know that this is consistently my least favorite award – not because of the nature of it, but because of the application of it. The definitions are always kind of weird and don’t always evoke “perseverance” to me, but whatever. Here we are again.
Jacoby had some post-Olympic depression and bounced back for a bronze medal at Worlds (and a good NCAA season). Wall had a baby, and bounced back to make the Pan Am Games team. Votes are due before we know how Wall comes out at the Pan Am Games.
I’ll vote for Jacoby, because she pulled herself out of that slump and was open about her depression.
But I think there were some good nominees here that weren’t chosen. Matt Fallon having a big injury that kept him out of NCAAs and coming back to win a Worlds medal in an event that looked like trouble for the Americans. I think Regan Smith maybe fits the bill too – she seemed down-and-out but had a huge year after a coaching change, though there was no publicly-shared pinch point for her performance last year.
None of this is a critique of the athletes. Just always an odd and I never know where to go with it.
FRAN CRIPPEN OPEN WATER SWIMMER OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the athlete who had the most outstanding year as an open water swimmer, with an emphasis on the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Grimes is going to the ship. This one’s a slam-dunk, the most clearcut award on the table.