Commentary by Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, July 16. WHEN the nominees for the ESPY Awards, ESPN’s way of honoring the best sports athletes and moments of the past 17 months, I was shocked that swimming and other aquatic sports were not listed in the nominations. Judging by the reactions from the swimming community, I was not alone.
Some of the moments from tonight’s ceremony were pretty cool – Michael Sam’s speech for the Arthur Ashe Award, Drake’s many disguises – but it would have been great for the millions of viewers to see how awesome swimmers were this past year. Katie Ledecky’s world records in Barcelona, Missy Franklin’s six golds at worlds, Kevin Cordes’ jaw-dropping records at NCAAs were just three things that were better than anything football or soccer players did this year.
Yes, USA Swimming has the Golden Goggle Awards, but why wait until November to name the best in the sport? I bring you the Alternative ESPYS, featuring winners only from swimming and diving. Plus, there will be a few international names on the list.
Best Male Athlete: Ryan Lochte. This was tough to pick. If not for those two relay disqualifications at the world championships and NCAAs, Cordes would get this. Another nominee would be Chase Kalisz for breaking through in a big way in the 400 IM last summer and again at the NCAA championships.
Best Female Athlete: Katie Ledecky. I could say that the other nominees are Missy Franklin and Lotte Friis, but what Ledecky has done in the pool in the past 12 months is nothing short of astounding. Four long course world records. The first American under four minutes in the 400 freestyle. American records in the 500- and 1650-yard freestyles. National high school records.
Best Championship Performance: University of Texas men’s swimming and diving. Michigan was picked (by me and a few others) to win the NCAA championships. California was supposed to be in the hunt as well. Very few said Texas would be holding the second-place trophy. But they did. Thanks to a couple of surprising wins by diver Michael Hixon and enough swimmers to count on two hands who far exceeded their seed times, and you have the recipe for one of the best team performances of the NCAA championships.
Best Breakthrough Athlete: Chase Kalisz. We had been saying Kalisz would be the worthy successor to the throne that the United States has held in the 400 IM since Tom Dolan in the mid-1990s. But who thought he would have won silver at the world championships and shatter the short course yards American record at the NCAAs. Kalisz’s time is now. Other nominees: Michael Hixon, Emma Reaney, Rikke Moller Pedersen
Best Upset: Utah vs. Arizona. It was supposed to be just a regular Pac 12 dual meet for the Arizona Wildcats. But the Utah Utes didn’t see it that way. Beating Arizona 152-148 brought the nation’s attention toward Salt Lake City, and set Utah on a great season. Other nominees: Yulia Efimova (200 breast at worlds), France (men’s 400 free relay at worlds), Brittany MacLean (500 free at NCAAs).
Best Team: Stanford women’s swimming and diving. With all due respect to Georgia, Stanford had the best team performance at the women’s NCAA Division I meet. The Cardinal had the talent, and made 2013’s disappointing meet a distant memory with relay wins and individual victories from Felicia Lee and Maya DiRado. Other nominees: California men at NCAAs, Japan at world championships
Best coach: The Nation’s Capital coaching staff. The success at NCAP goes well beyond head coach Bruce Gemmell. John Flanagan, Jeremy Linn, Pete Morgan, Jeff King and many more are not only producing world champions, but cultivating future stars in Andrew Seliskar, Janet Hu, Carsten Vissering and many more. This team has a rich history of Olympians from its days as Curl-Burke Swim Club, and that tradition does not look like it will end soon. Other nominees: Bob Bowman, Dave Durden/Yuri Suguiyama, Sergio Lopez, Chris Plumb
Best Comeback: Michael Phelps. No other nominees.