Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, October 4. THE Golden Goggles awards ceremony is about seven weeks away, and I’m sure swimming fans are already voting for their favorite athletes and coaches in the eight categories on offer this year. (If not, click here to vote.)
As a refresher, the Golden Goggles ceremony honors the top performances from American athletes from each year. There’s also an award for the coaches that helped those swimmers reach the pinnacle of the sport. Fans can vote for their favorites, and those votes will be counted as part of the final tally.
In the next seven weeks before the November 24 ceremony in Los Angeles, Swimming World will roll out our picks for the Golden Goggles winners. Some of the categories have clear-cut winners; others were not easy to pick just one.
Today, we offer a look at the four nominees for the Breakout Performer of the Year.
Jimmy Feigen. The swimming community had high expectations for Jimmy Feigen after he broke the national high school records in the 50 and 100 freestyles in 2008, the year he was voted the Swimming World Magazine Male High School Swimmer of the Year. For the most part, he has met those expectations, contributing heavily to the Texas men’s swimming and diving team in his four years there.
But Feigen wasn’t able to find his footing in the long course pool, coming up short of the championship final at the 2008 Olympic Trials and missing the international roster of several meets since then. He qualified for the 2012 Olympic team in the 400 free relay, and his career took off after that.
In 2013, not only did he finish second in the 100 freestyle at nationals, but he earned his first opportunity to swim in an individual event at a major long course international meet. Feigen took that opportunity and left the world championships in Barcelona with a silver medal in the prestigious 100 freestyle. At last, the biggest expectations heaped on Feigen as a high school senior were coming to fruition … and there appears to be no slowing down for the San Antonio native.
Chase Kalisz. Chase Kalisz knows what champions look like. He spent his maturing years at North Baltimore Aquatic Club chasing Michael Phelps up and down the pool as the Greatest of All Time was securing his legacy. Now that Phelps has retired, Kalisz has stepped in quickly to keep the American presence in the individual medley strong on the global stage.
Though Kalisz wasn’t able to keep the American streak of gold in the 400 individual medley at the world championships alive, his silver medal harkened a new age in which the Georgia sophomore will be the new domestic leader in the event, especially if reigning Olympic champion Ryan Lochte decides to drop the event for good. Kalisz won the NCAA title in the 400 IM quite handily in his freshman season, and will have an eye on a fourpeat.
Kalisz’s key to national and international dominance in the 400 IM — and a chance to move up the ranks in the 200 IM — is better butterfly and backstroke legs. In Barcelona, he was sixth at the halfway point, and superb breaststroke and freestyle swims propelled him to silver.
Simone Manuel. Allow me a chance to toot my own horn here. I predicted Simone Manuel would be one to watch at the USA Swimming nationals, certain she would make the championship final in the 100 free. Manuel did more than that. She placed fourth in the 100 free, earning a spot on the world championship team. Then, she nearly won the 50 free with the fastest time ever swum by a 16-year-old female American.
At her first major international competition Manuel was not picked to swim in the final of the 400 free relay, but still won a gold medal for being in the prelims squad. Six days later, she was racing with some major heavyweights in the 50 freestyle. This is not a race for the timid, and Manuel proved she belonged in the meet with a spot in the final, where she placed seventh in 24.80.
Manuel has been slowly making her way to the top of the national ranks, and though many hoped she would break through at the same rate as Missy Franklin or Lia Neal, she found the perfect time to pounce.
Michael McBroom. The United States desperately needed a boost to its men’s distance swimming program, and it found a steady leader in Connor Jaeger last year. Michael McBroom has been on the cusp of making a grand international statement, and he made it at last summer’s world championships.
Though not an Olympic event, McBroom’s major international debut in the 800 freestyle was a successful one. While most rookies to the world championships might have felt a little bit of fear swimming in the lane next to Sun Yang, McBroom raced his seven competitors up and down the pool for a little less than eight minutes, scoring a silver medal and an American record time of 7:43.60.
McBroom followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the 1500 freestyle, signaling his intentions to give Team USA a boost in distance racing in time for the Rio Olympics.
Golden Goggles Award Pick: Feigen. The field of contenders for one of two spots in the 100 free for international competition is extremely tight in the United States. It’s one thing for Feigen to get the chance to represent the USA in the 100 free at the world championships. It’s a much bigger thing that he parlayed that into a medal.
Swimming World will bring you more analysis of the Golden Goggles award nominees each week.