Golden Goggles: The Ballot for 2022’s Top American Swimmers

bobby-finke-800-free-gold-2022-world-championships-budapest
Bobby Finke -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Golden Goggles: The Ballot for 2022’s Top American Swimmers

Coming off a World Championships where the United States captured 45 medals in the pool, the most of any major international competition ever, USA Swimming has announced its nominees for this year’s Golden Goggles, with awards scheduled to be handed out Monday, Nov. 21 in New York. There are plenty of new faces on this year’s list of nominees, with swimmers like Alex Walsh, Torri Huske and Carson Foster taking center stage for the first time.

So who should win each of the eight awards scheduled to be handed out this year? Let’s go through the nominees and pick the most deserving candidate.


Breakout Performer of the Year

Nominees: Carson Foster, Claire Curzan, Leah Hayes, Hunter Armstrong, Torri Huske

Leah Hayes of United States competes in the 200m Individual Medley Women Heats during the FINA 19th World Championships at Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary, June 18th, 2022. Leah Hayes placedd second. Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Leah Hayes — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

As you might expect in a post-Olympic year, there are plenty of really strong candidates who etched their names as bona fide international performers and into the permanent record as World Championships medalists. After narrowly missing an individual medal at her first Olympics, Huske was the busiest swimmer for the U.S. team at the World Championships in Budapest, winning an individual world title and individual bronze plus four relay medals, while Curzan was also on all of those relays while winning bronze in the 100 backstroke. Foster proved his ability to perform in the biggest races, and he is clearly the world’s No. 2 IMer. Armstrong became a world-record holder while showing up big in multiple finals at Worlds.

But all of those swimmers came into the year as strong contenders to perform internationally this year. Not Hayes. This 16-year-old from Illinois was a surprise qualifier to the World Championships team in the 200 IM, and she ended up dropping almost four seconds from her lifetime best over the course of the year, all the way down to 2:08.91. She won a bronze medal at Worlds for her efforts. This is a really strong field, but no one achieved more rapid improvement in 2022 than Hayes.

The Pick: Hayes


Perseverance Award

Nominees: Leah Smith, Lilly King, Luca Urlando

leah-smith-

Leah Smith — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

All three of these swimmers had to persevere in 2022. Urlando came back from narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic team to qualify for Worlds and make the final of the 200 butterfly, and King, shortly after battling COVID-19, fought through an up-and-down meet at Worlds before claiming a title in the 200 breaststroke. But the choice here is Smith, a veteran middle-distance and distance freestyler who had been a stalwart on every major U.S. international team for six years before missing the Tokyo Olympics in a stunner. No matter. Smith, now 27, uprooted her training and moved to Austin, Texas, and this year, her results were as though she never left her status as one of the best. Smith represented the U.S. in the 200, 400 and 800 free at Worlds, winning bronze in the 400 free and helping the 800 free relay team take gold.

The Pick: Smith


Coach of the Year

Nominees: Anthony Nesty, Eddie Reese, Ron Aitken, Todd DeSorbo

It’s a tight call, but the standout coach in the U.S. this year was DeSorbo. That’s a reflection of the long course season in which Alex Walsh became a world champion for the first time, Kate Douglass also won medals at Worlds, and Gretchen Walsh and Matt King both won U.S. national titles, but we cannot forget about the dominance DeSorbo’s Virginia women showed in a 145.5-point win at the NCAA Championships in March. DeSorbo was also the head coach for the U.S. women in Budapest as the team won medals in all but two Olympic events.

Make no mistake: this is a close call. Nesty will get plenty of support here for his efforts with Katie Ledecky and Bobby Finke, and Aitken guided three high school swimmers to medals at Worlds. Reese is probably the top U.S. coach of this generation. But combining college and international results, DeSorbo stands clear of the field.

The Pick: DeSorbo


Relay Performance of the Year

Nominees (all from World Championships): Women’s 800 Free Relay, Men’s 800 Free Relay, Women’s 400 Medley Relay, Men’s 400 Free Relay, Mixed 400 Medley Relay

kieran-smith-

Bobby Finke — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Another really tight category since five U.S. relays won gold medals in Budapest, four of which were not winners at the previous year’s Olympics. In fact, the mixed medley relay and men’s 800 free relay both bounced back from missing the podium entirely in Tokyo. Perhaps the most surprising performance among the nominees was the women’s 800 free relay, where Katie Ledecky uncorked one of the fastest swims in history to put the Americans in the lead and Bella Sims clobbered her personal best in bringing home gold. But shortly afterward at the Commonwealth Games, Australia broke the world record in this event, so the Americans finished the summer two seconds short of the world-leading time.

With that in mind, we’ll go with the men’s 800 free relay, which jumped from fourth place in Tokyo to first by more than three seconds in Budapest. Sure, the Americans benefitted from the absence of British star Duncan Scott and the entire Russian lineup, but take nothing away from what Drew Kibler, Carson Foster, Trenton Julian and Kieran Smith accomplished. American struggles in the men’s 200 free have been evident for years, but thanks to the efforts of this young lineup, the U.S. team has become the frontrunner again.

The Pick: Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay


Female Race of the Year

Nominees: Alex Walsh 200 IM, Katie Ledecky 800 Free, Lilly King 200 Breast, Regan Smith 100 Back, Torri Huske 100 Fly

alex-walsh-

Alex Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Three of the swims on this list rank as top-10 efforts in history: Ledecky’s fifth consecutive world title in the 800 free (with her fastest swim in four years), Huske’s American-record-setting swim in the 100 fly and Walsh’s dominant 200 IM that also led to a world title. You can make a really strong argument for any of these swims to win, but the vote here is for Walsh because of her rapid improvement in the event. Walsh, a native of Nashville and now 21 years old, had the swim of her life when she came very close to holding off Yui Ohashi in the Olympic final last year, but this year, she went a second-and-a-half quicker and utterly crushed the world’s best swimmers in the event. Walsh swam a time of 2:07.13, quicker than any other swimmer since 2019 and a mark that only two swimmers (Katinka Hosszu and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor) have ever surpassed in a textile suit.

The Pick: Walsh


Male Race of the Year

Nominees: Bobby Finke 800 Free, Bobby Finke 1500 Free, Carson Foster 400 IM, Ryan Murphy 200 Back

The legend of Bobby Finke struck again in Budapest. He was fourth at the final turn in the 800 free final, and then he accelerated into overdrive. Unlike in their showdown at last year’s Olympics, Florian Wellbrock tried to go with Finke, but he could not match the American’s finishing speed. Finke swam an American-record time of 7:39.36, a full 2.5 seconds ahead of his Olympic-gold-medal-winning mark from one year earlier in Tokyo. Give credit to Finke’s performance in the 1500 free as well since he smashed Connor Jaeger’s American record on the way to a silver medal, but the swim that produced gold for the United States is the more deserving winner.

The Pick: Finke (800 Free)


Female Athlete of the Year

Nominees: Alex Walsh, Katie Grimes, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Regan Smith, Torri Huske

katie-ledecky-1500-free-reaction-2022-world-championships-budapest

Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

An unusually large field of nominees features five individual world champions from this year plus a 16-year-old who won a pair of individual silver medals. Huske’s ascendance from promising teenager to individual world champion and relay force cannot be overlooked, but how can Ledecky not be the winner here? She swept the 400, 800 and 1500 free world titles for the fourth time in her career, and she is the primary reason why the American women were able to reclaim the world title in the 800 free relay. Ledecky even got a chance to race the 400 IM at a taper meet this year, and she ended up with the world’s fourth-fastest time. While Ariarne Titmus has broken Ledecky’s stranglehold on the 400 free, she is still the best in the world in the 800 and 1500 by large margins. Ledecky’s run at the top of women’s swimming has lasted a decade without interruption, which is virtually unheard of, especially for a distance swimmer, and there have been no signs of that she will lose her grip on the distance races anytime soon.

The Pick: Ledecky


Male Athlete of the Year

Nominees: Bobby Finke, Carson Foster, Nic Fink, Ryan Murphy

Since the inception of Golden Goggles in 2004, this award has been a runway more often than not, with Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Caeleb Dressel combining to sweep the majority of top honors. This year marks the first time ever none of those three men has been nominated, so the honor will come down to the two U.S. men to win individual world titles in Olympic events this year. Murphy was the 200 back world champion and the silver medalist in the 100 back, and he also won a gold and a silver in relay action. Finke, meanwhile, won 800 free gold and 1500 free silver for the U.S. in Budapest. It’s a close call, but Finke’s rise to become the country’s top distance swimmer and the best American in those events in decades deserves some recognition here.

The Pick: Finke

Subscribe
Notify of
avatar
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x