Aussie Zac Stubblety-Cook Is Runaway Winner As Pacific Rim Male Swimmer Of the Year (See Full Voting)


Aussie Zac Stubblety-Cook Is Runaway Winner As Pacific Rim Male Swimmer Of the Year

Since the end of Kosuke Kitajima’s stellar career, the men’s breaststroke ranks have been there for the taking, lacking a comprehensively dominant star.

Adam Peaty has unquestionably reigned in the 100 breast, though he’s had limited success over the longer race and doesn’t get to contest the 50 in the Olympics. Dani Gyurta was the opposite, with three world championships and one of the three Olympic gold medals in the 200 breast since Kitajima’s retirement, but no significant long course medals in the 100. Anton Chupkov’s future is clouded by uncertainty over Russia’s standing in the global sports scene.

Zac Stubblety-Cook has a chance to be a unifier in the stroke. The 200 is his clear strength, the Aussie packing a lethal finishing kick. It’ll take a notable development in the next two years to prevent him from repeating as Olympic champion. But the 23-year-old is still growing into his career, with the potential to become the next all-around breaststroke star the likes of which haven’t been seen since Kitajima.

Stubblety-Cook’s arrival came at the Tokyo Olympics. But to do what he’s done over the last 18 months in the 200 breast, winning gold medals in impressive fashion at the three largest meets on the schedule, is legendary.

His run started in earnest in Tokyo. He was fastest at every level at the Olympics and took control of the final by swimming away from a crowd with that finishing burst. His time of 2:06.38 set an Olympic record and set the stage for a stellar 2022.

His swim at the Australian Championships in May was one of the best of the year, downing the world record in the 200 with a time of 2:05.95. The first man under 2:06, he chipped .17 off Chupkov’s world record from the 2019 World Championships, an event in which Stubblety-Cook finished fourth behind fellow Aussie Matthew Wilson. Only six swimmers since the start of 2019 have gone under 2:07, and Stubblety-Cook is already visiting the depths below 2:06.

He has all the elements to push the frontier in the event, his superb technique required for such a technically demanding race and his ability to build speed as the races goes on. (He trains with distance swimmer Jack McLoughlin, whom he credits in part for his back-end speed). But what may separate Stubblety-Cook is the racing mettle that is so rare over the longer distance.

While so many of his compatriots divided their attentions between Worlds and the Commonwealth Games, Stubblety-Cook found a way to dominate both. Making two finals at each event is an achievement few could wring out of a post-Olympic year, and it sets Stubblety-Cook as the unquestioned favorite as the world pushes toward the Paris Olympics.

“The end goal is Paris in 2024, but obviously whatever happens in between, I’m just going to enjoy my swimming,” he said in May after his world record. “And there will be a lot of fast racing this year and a lot of good competitors.”

Stubblety-Cook showed his dominance at Worlds, where he won the 200 in 2:07.07, a second-and-a-quarter clear of his pursuers. He was also seventh in the 100. He was slower at Commonwealths by exactly a second, but he still topped James Wilby by a half-second for gold. He added silver in the 100 breast in 59.52.

The ability to win races is something we’ve grown used to from Stubblety-Cook, his standing as among the best of his generation of breaststrokers well established. The world record, though, enters him into a deeper conversation of his place all-time. It’s something that Stubblety-Cook felt in Adelaide in May.

“It’s a different feeling to look up at the board and see your name next to the world record,” he said after his win at Worlds. “I think when the event was announced, it was strange, especially in the heats, seeing my name flash up over 2:05.9. It was different, but exciting. I’m swimming freely and enjoying swimming, and that’s the most important thing to me.”

1. ZAC STUBBLETY-COOK, Australia (11) 55
2. Elijah Winnington, Australia 43
3. Lewis Clareburt, New Zealand 17
4T. Kyle Chalmers, Australia 15
4T. Hwang Sun-woo, South Korea 15
(First-place votes in parentheses)