Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, October 18. THE Perseverance Award is one of the most inspiring Golden Goggle Award categories. You have a list of swimmers who came back from depressing lows to achieve magnificent things a year or two later. Need proof? Just ask last year’s winner, Jessica Hardy, who was at the lowest point an athlete could get after being yanked from the 2008 team, then returning to make the 2012 Olympic squad and winning two medals.
This year’s crop of athletes were on the cusp of making the Olympic team last year, but found themselves watching the London Games from their couches at home. Instead of packing it up — as a couple of the nominees were expected to do — they trained even harder, and ended the 2012-2013 season with medals at the world championships.
All four of the nominees have outstanding comeback stories, and I’ll share a snippet of each before declaring my choice for the winner.
Godsoe has been a major player for many years, but has never had the opportunity to represent the USA at the biggest meet of the year. After not making the Olympic team in the 100 fly or 100 back last year, no one would have faulted Godsoe, then 24 years old, for hanging up his suit and moving on with life. But with Michael Phelps retiring, Godsoe saw an opening and made the most of it. He won the 50 and 100 butterfly events at nationals last summer, qualifying for the world championships. Though it’s not an Olympic event, Godsoe shouldn’t be discounted for having his best race in the 50 fly, where he stunned the world with a silver medal swim. Apparently, relocating to Stanford last year was a good choice.
Getting third twice at the Olympic Trials would deflate most people, but not Pelton. She took to her freshman year at the University of California-Berkeley with a vengeance, winning the NCAA title in the 200 backstroke in American record time. A few months later, she showed that Omaha 2012 was a distant memory, challenging Missy Franklin in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes and getting her spot on the world championship team for the second time. (Her first was in 2009.) Pelton’s medals came as a prelim swimmer in the 400 free relay and 400 medley relay, but getting into the final of both backstroke events in Barcelona was a major step forward for Pelton.
If anyone on this list was expected to make the Olympic team in 2012, it was David Plummer. After spending part of 2010 and all of 2011 as the country’s best sprint backstroker, it seemed like a slam dunk for Plummer to earn a place on the Olympic roster. But things didn’t turn out that way, and many thought Plummer would call it a career. We almost lost Plummer to “real life,” but the hunger was still there, and he forged ahead in training, determined to get back on the international roster. He won both backstrokes at nationals and nearly won a medal in the 100 back in Spain.
When Megan Romano didn’t make the Olympic team last year, everyone knew she would come back full strength in 2013. But how many expected to see her charge ahead to make headlines with her fantastic relays performances? Romano dropped a few jaws in Russia at the World University Games when she “pulled a Lezak” and helped the USA win gold in the 400 free relay. She pulled off the same feat at the world championships, giving the USA gold over Australia in an amazing come-from-behind victory. It’s obvious postgrad life is suiting Romano, and her ability to forget the past couldn’t have come at a better time for the USA.
Golden Goggle Award pick: Pelton. As I mentioned before, placing third twice at the Olympic Trials is a very low point for an athlete, and not easy to recover and rebuild. Credit goes not only to Pelton for getting faster, but to Cal coach Teri McKeever for helping Pelton find the physical and mental fortitude to put herself on the world map in 2013.
Next week: Analyzing Female Race of the Year