By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, September 16. SINCE the year is only weeks away from entering its final quarter, why not put together a ranking of the top swimmers for 2005. Of course, some things can change in the next few months, and the following rating is only one man’s analysis. We’ll start with the women this week and move forward to the men next week.
GOLD: Kirsty Coventry, Zimbabwe
Wrestled with this decision for a little bit, but how can you deny a woman who walked away from the World Championships with a quartet of medals, including golden performances in the 100 and 200 backstrokes. For good measure, the former Auburn standout secured silver medals in the 200 and 400 individual medley events. If that wasn’t enough, Coventry was the NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year after winning three individual titles.
SILVER: Katie Hoff, United States
I’m a big believer in the individual medley events influencing an athlete’s standing on the world scene, and Hoff is clearly the class of those disciplines. At the World Champs, the 16-year-old won gold in the 200 and 400 I.M. races and posted the second-fastest time in history over the shorter distance. She also added gold in the 800 freestyle relay and just missed the final of the 200 free. The best news: Hoff is getting better and is likely to branch out in the coming years.
BRONZE: Leisel Jones, Australia
The fact that Jones won double gold at the World Championships was enough to warrant inclusion in this spot, but there was more to her story. Jones had long been labeled as unable to deliver on the big stage, thanks to past efforts in the Olympic Games and World Champs. This summer, though, she put a gag around the mouths of her doubters. After defeating world-record holder Jessica Hardy in the 100 breast, Jones uncorked an amazing swim in the 200 breast final, swimming a global standard of 2:21.72.
Living up to her billing as the premier American distance swimmer since Janet Evans, Kate Ziegler won world titles in the 800 and 1,500 events, with her metric mile time of 16:00.41 making her the third-fastest performer in history. Meanwhile, Libby Lenton was dazzling for the Aussies. Lenton won gold in the 50 free, silver in the 100 fly and became the third-fastest performer in the 200 free when she led off Australia’s 800 free relay in a blistering mark of 1:57.06.