The 2019 International Swimming League season was full of big moments. The team emphasis, which was the biggest presentation of a team format that we’ve seen in professional swimming so far, gave an extra layer of storylines to follow on top of the times and the individual battles that are so regularly covered.
With 7 meets, and 37 races at each meet, that leaves 259 races to choose from to make a ‘top races’ list. This list is not built upon any single criteria – not simply upon the fastest swims or the biggest records or the most competitive races – but rather a subjective recounting of swims that stood out as particularly significant for one reason or another. In at least 2 cases, the swim isn’t even included because of who won, but as a result of a swimmer who was runner-up.
Check out our 16 favorite races from the season, with race videos where available (the league got better about posting race videos later in the season).
16) Lilly King Defeats Kelsey Wog in 200 Breaststroke in Indianapolis
Lilly King didn’t lose a single race in 16 tries in the 2019 International swimming League season, sweeping all of her swims in the 50, 100, and 200 breaststrokes individually, and as part of the Cali Condors’ 400 medley relays. The closest she got to losing a race, though, came early in the season in front of a home crowd in Indianapolis, where her young Canadian teammate Kelsey Wog led by 1.32 seconds heading into the final 50 meters. King wound up pushing past Wog in the last 5 strokes to win by 4-tenths, but that breakout swim seemed to give Wog confidence for the rest of the season.
Race Video (of the finish, anyway):
15) Kelsi Dahlia beats Sjostrom in 100 fly in Las Vegas finale
The Cali Condors were on fire at the start of the 2019 International Swimming League finale in Las Vegas. While they weren’t quite putting enough room between themselves and their opponents with their 2nd swimmers to finish better than 3rd in the meet, the Condors built excitement and momentum with 5 straight victories to open the meet. That included a starting win by Kelsi Dahlia over Sarah Sjostrom, who would go on to be season MVP. Sjostrom actually finished just 4th in that race (she struggled on day 1 before heating up on day 2), and this was the 2nd time that Dahlia had beat Sjostrom, the World Record holder, on the season. Dahlia’s Las Vegas swim was the fastest time of the ISL season.
Race Video (Full):
14) Kayla Sanchez Wins 200 Free in European Derby
Canadian swimmer Kayla Sanchez, representing Energy Standard, had her best meet of the season in the European Derby. She broke a Canadian Record in the 50 free, and won the 200 free in 1:52.72 – beating out, among others, Femke Heemskerk, Federica Pellegrini, Emma McKeon, Freya Anderson, and Katinka Hosszu. That was her only win of the season, but it was a weighty one for the 18-year old from Onatrio.
Full Race Video:
13) Siobhan Haughey Makes Skins Final to Ensure DC Trident 3rd Place in Derby
“3rd is first! 3rd is first!” These were the chants of the DC Trident after finishing in 3rd place in the U.S. Derby. They squeaked-past the New York Breakers to avoid the title of ‘worst team in the US’ in the first season of the ISL. While Haughey wound up losing to Beryl Gastaldello in that finals race, that she made the final in essence gave Trident a shot at 3rd place. Gastaldello’s swim was also huge for her team in fighting back the Cali Condors to win the U.S. Derby.
Race Video (highlights of rounds 1/2, full race video of final, including DC box erupting after the semi-finals):
12) Breno Correia‘s Last-Minute Substitution for a Win in the 200 Free in Indianapolis
It was a tough season for the Aqua Centurions, as they finished in 4th place in all 4 meets they raced in this season. But a bright spot was Breno Correia, who won the 200 free in east of the season’s first 2 meets (albeit in the 2 slowest winning times of the season). What made his first win in Indianapolis so cool was that he was a last-minute substitution for Travis Mahoney in the 200 free. Early in the season, there was a ton of moving and shaking as teams got a better feel for what their athletes are capable of and how to best work the format. That eventually settled-down later in the season, but this was a big moment in proving the value of the ability to make last minute changes.
Race Video Not Available.
11) Breeja Larson Wins 100 Breaststroke For Breakers Ice-Breaker
The New York Breakers, like the Aqua Centurions, didn’t win any meets in the 2019 International Swimming League season, though both came very close to picking off the DC Trident at different meets. The Breakers were probably better on paper than they performed on the season (Michael Andrew, who should be a monster in this format, had only one tie for a win this season), but one group that performed to its standard were the breaststrokers. Of the team’s 4 event wins on the season, came 3 in breaststrokes, including Breeja Larson‘s ice-breaker in Lewisville in the women’s 100 meter race. Then, in Budapest, Marco Koch and Emily Escobedo swept the 200 breaststrokes in back-to-back wins. Larson, who before King came along was a revolutionary short course swimmer, went quiet in her career for a while, but thanks to the ISL is now back into the spotlight.
10) Ian Finnerty Breaks American Record in 100 Breast in College Park
Ian Finnerty went after it in what he knew would be his final ISL meet of the season for the DC Trident, breaking American Records in both the 50 breaststroke (25.99) and 100 breaststroke (56.29), to which he added a later win in the 200 breaststroke (2:02.76). He didn’t win the 50 in the Derby meet, and his American Record was broken by Nic Fink in Las Vegas, but his 100 mark stood as both a win and a record, and still stands as a record, making it the best swim of the 3 in a big meet for Finnerty. Those 3 swims earned him $4,800 of his $5,400 in prize money on the season.
9) Chad le Clos Welcomes Caeleb Dressel to ISL with a Defeat
Caeleb Dressel didn’t lose much in his inaugural ISL season. After missing the Cali Condors’ first meet of the season, he still very-nearly caught up to Sarah Sjostrom for league MVP. Aside from a questionable entry in the 50 breaststroke in Las Vegas, Dressel lost only one individual race on the season: his very first swim in his very first meet in Naples. There, Chad le Clos, already a veteran of this format, out-touched him by .01 seconds.
Race Video (Highlights):
8) Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell Tie in the 100 Free in Budapest
The women’s sprint races were a huge highlight of the opening International Swimming League season, and in back-to-back meets in Budapest and then College Park, there were ties. In Budapest, it was between London Roar and Australian teammates Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell, and at the American Derby it was between Siobhan Haughey and Beryl Gastaldello. Without participation of the 2 best American female sprinters, Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil, the sprint conversation was very-much slanted toward ‘the rest of the world’ without a lot of participation from American athletes, but that didn’t dampen what is the deepest and most competitive discipline group in the world right now.
No Race Video Available.
7) Katie Ledecky Beats Ariarne Titmus in World Championship Rematch
Katie Ledecky‘s appearance in the 2019 season of the International Swimming League was brief, but impactful. That included a big rematch of the 400 free from the World Championships between Katie Ledecky of the DC Trident and Ariarne Titmus of the Cali Condors. Ledecky broke the American Record and very nearly the World Record with a 3:54.06. In fact, Titmus, who still holds the World Record in that race, was more than 3 seconds behind for 2nd place. That was Ledecky’s only win of the season.
6) Daiya Seto Breaks World Record in 400 IM in Las Vegas Finale
All season long, Energy Standard found ways to squeak out just enough points to win meets. In Las Vegas, one of those ways by adding one of the hottest swimmers in the world at the moment, Japan’s Daiya Seto. He didn’t disappoint: in his ISL debut, he won the men’s 400 IM by 5 seconds and set a new World Record in 3:54.81. Seto would add more wins in the 200 IM and 200 fly later in the meet, scoring big points in races where Energy Standard had struggled in previous meets. It’s safe to say that without Seto, Energy Standard would not be the league champions. Or maybe they would. They always find a way.
5) Guilherme Guido Wins 100 Backstroke in Las Vegas Finale
The biggest snub for first team honors in SwimSwam’s All-ISL team this season? In my opinion, Guilherme Guido of the London Roar. The 32-year old Brazilian has never won an individual gold medal at any meet bigger than the South American Games, but he was an absolute star in the ISL season. He didn’t lose in the 50 backstroke, won 3 out of 4 races in the 100 backstroke, had the fastest 50 backstroke and 100 backstroke times of the season.
4) Sarah Sjostrom Wins Women’s Skins Race to Secure Season MVP Award
With her win in the skins race in Las Vegas, which wasn’t nearly the same lock as Dressel’s victory in the men’s race, Sarah Sjostrom ensured herself of the $50,000 award for the season-long MVP award. That was Sjostrom’s 3rd skins race win of the season in 4 shots, and her 12th overall race win – tied with Lilly King for the 2nd-most behind Dressel. It also kept her Energy Standard team in contention for the title, which they’d eventually win when London Roar were frozen out of the men’s skins final. Had Cate Campbell won that race, London Roar would be the champions.
3) Minna Atherton Breaks the World Record in the 100 Backstroke
Minna Atherton, who took a silver medal in the 100 back at the World Championships, had a breakout season that was a little lost in the Regan Smith hysteria. But with Smith ineligible for ISL competition as an amateur, Atherton had her moment to shine. While she struggled a little for London in the Las Vegas finale (many of the Australians who were so good all season did), she still finished 9th in the season-long MVP standings, won 10 individual races, and broke the World Record in the 100 backstroke in Budapest in 54.89.
2) Caeleb Dressel Breaks 50 Free World Record in Las Vegas
Caeleb Dressel got a late start to the 2019 ISL season, but he made up ground in a hurry, culminating in a 50 free World Record in Las Vegas in 20.24. In the current league format, sprinters, and especially sprint freestylers, are always going to be the superstars of the ISL, and among those superstars, Dressel shines brightest at every level right now. The record was no great surprise, given how fast he was in yards in his college career. Including relays, Dressel holds or shares 7 World Records, which is the most in the world ahead of Sjostrom (6, all individual).
1) Energy Standard Freeze Out London Roar in Las Vegas Skins
If we’re going to buy in to the fact that the new world order has team over time (which certainly we don’t have to), and if we put aside protestations of overvaluing of skins results (which we certainly do protest), then this has to be the moment of the season. Energy Standard, for the 3rd time in their 4 wins this season, came-from-behind via the skins to win a meet, and this win was for the whole title. Among other things, the result locked-in $10,000 for each of the 28 swimmers that they took to the finale, and made good on pre-season promises made that the team would supplement salaries with a big victory award (they weren’t the only team that made such promises). When London Roar missed the semis, the meet was officially over (barring a DQ, though we’re not quite sure what would happen in a 2nd-or-3rd-round DQ scenario).
Race Video (Only highlights of the key preliminary round, but full video of the finale):