Ranking the 10 Best Moments From the 2020 ISL Season

Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

As the 2020 ISL season came to a close over the weekend, and all the swimmers packed their bags to head home after six weeks on Margaret Island in Budapest, Hungary, we have reflected on what was a successful season of racing where no COVID cases were reported from the “bubble” and eight world records were broken during that span. It was a stark revelation that the world’s best swimmers, although may have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, have gotten back to some sort of normalcy and were able to put up some best times across the board after such a long time away.

13 meets were conducted in the six-week span and there was a lot of racing, and we have highlighted below ten of the best moments from this ISL season in 2020. Five women’s races, and five men’s to ultimately close out this successful ISL season with no COVID cases, eight world records, and a new champion crowned.

10. Danas Rapsys’ Miscount


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

This is one of the most discussed races of the ISL season when it happened – and all in good fun. A world class swimmer miscounting his swim and still winning? It was a good lesson to any young swimmers that have ever miscounted in a set or in a race. It happens to the best of us! Energy Standard’s Danas Rapsys had a clear lead in the 400 free on November 5, touching over five seconds ahead of second place at the 350 mark. But the problem was, Rapsys had stopped and thought he had finished the race. But his teammates started yelling at him that he needed to keep going and in this haste, he was able to still finish the race on top with a 3:40.83, just holding off Zane Grothe at 3:40.93, and splitting a 32.54 on his last 50.

It was a humorous moment, and one that Rapsys may never hear the end of.

9. Siobhan Haughey’s Perfect 200 Free Streak

Siobhan Haughey

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS

If there was an unsung hero in this ISL season, it had to be Energy Standard’s Siobhan Haughey, who won every single 200 freestyle race she was in, and lowered the league record down to a 1:51.11 in the Grand Final. If there was actual MVP voting, instead of it being strictly based on points, Haughey would have to be a first-team consideration if we are going off of football and basketball terms. Haughey did finish seventh overall in individual points scored, and Energy Standard wouldn’t have gotten where they did without her.

When Sarah Sjostrom went down, she filled in. When Femke Heemskerk had to stay quarantined at home, she filled in. Whenever Energy Standard needed a big swim, she was there, and it was evident by her league record in the 200 free where she has not lost in two seasons in the ISL. It is hard to believe she never won an NCAA title while at the University of Michigan, but Haughey looks to be here to stay in professional swimming, and it is about time she gets recognized for it.

8. Olivia Smoliga’s 100 Back at the Grand Final

Olivia Smoliga (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

Speaking of unsung heroes, Olivia Smoliga of the Cali Condors was another one. With a lot of attention (and rightfully so) on the Condors stars Lilly King and Caeleb Dressel, Smoliga almost seemed to be under-appreciated on the undefeated league champions. But Smoliga finished sixth in MVP scoring on the season, and nearly finished the season with an individual world record in the 100 back with a 55.04, just missing Minna Atherton’s 54.89 from last year’s ISL season.

Smoliga was instrumental in the Condors’ title this season, coming up big in the backstroke Skins as well as on relays, where the Condors closed with a world record in the women’s medley relay in the Grand Final.

7. Energy vs. Roar Men’s Medley Relay in Semifinals


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

It was perhaps one of the most exciting head to head matchups in the entire league. Twitter went crazy when Adam Peaty of the London Roar split under 55 seconds in the breaststroke leg, and British fans celebrated when Duncan Scott held off Florent Manaudou on the freestyle leg, with shades of the Gwangju medley relay coming into our conscious.

It was a race that showed what the ISL was all about – swimmers from all different countries coming together to just race and compete. London swam with Guilherme Guido (Brazil), Peaty (Great Britain), Marius Kusch (Germany) and Scott (Great Britain), while Energy went with Kliment Kolesnikov (Russia), Ilya Shymanovich (Belarus), Chad Le Clos (South Africa) and Manaudou (France) with the Roar coming out on top with a 3:19.50 to Energy’s 3:19.55.

6. Condors Medley Relay


From left, the Cali Condors’ Lilly King, Kelsi Dahlia and Olivia Smoliga celebrate their world record in the medley relay; Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

The medley relays became an all-important aspect of each match in the 2020 ISL season, with the winner in control of the stroke for the Skins event the following day. With so much at stake, the medley relays became a strategic race for all the coaches in the league so it was imperative to have four strong legs stacked up in order to ensure a cushion into the all-deciding Skins events. The Cali Condors staked their claim in the women’s medley relay in the Grand Final when their dynamite front half of Olivia Smoliga and Lilly King opened up a two second lead on Energy Standard and the London Roar, it was game over for everyone else.

And Kelsi Dahlia and Erika Brown didn’t let up on the back half either as the Condors broke the official world record with a 3:44.52, downing the American squad from the 2015 Duel in the Pool, and since all four of those swimmers hail from the same nation, it will officially count as a new world record. If this medley relay – Skins advantage stays in play for 2021, then you better believe all the league teams will be organizing their rosters to have the best medley relay possible.

5. Lilly King Coming Up Clutch Time and Time Again

Lilly King

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS

Lilly King had gone undefeated in her ISL career until training partner Annie Lazor took her down in the 200 breast in match 10. King had taken a couple other second places to Molly Hannis and it left her potentially vulnerable in the showdown between her, rising star Benedetta Pilato and established veteran and 100 breast world record holder Alia Atkinson in the Grand Final.

King came through for a win in the 50 breast with a 28.77, just ahead of Pilato (28.81) and Atkinson (28.88) in a thrilling finish. And the next day in the all-important Olympic distance – the 100, King came out on top with a blistering 1:02.56 to get within two tenths of the world record and officially take down Katie Meili’s American record to give her all three breaststroke American record distances. Atkinson and Pilato were hardly factors in the race as the Jamaican was second at 1:03.56 with the Italian fading to fifth at 1:04.27.

King finished second in MVP scoring and she only lost three individual races in the entire season, proving she is the breaststroker in the world in 2020.

4. Adam Peaty’s 100 Breast World Record (The First Time)


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Adam Peaty has been one of the most dominant swimmers in one single event in the last ten years – staking his claim as the best 100 breaststroker of all-time and if he can win a back to back gold medal next summer in Tokyo over two lengths of the pool, then his legacy in the pantheon of swimming will be cemented. Short course meters is a different animal for Peaty, and we saw that in the first half of the season when he was trailing the best in the world by a few tenths – startling for a man who had won the 2019 World title by a second and a half in a 100m race.

But in the semi finals, Peaty had unleashed the fastest breaststroke split in history on night one in the medley relay (see #7), and his impending matchup with Energy’s Ilya Shymanovich was catching the eyes of swimming fans all over, who thought it might to take a world record to win. And things were made more interesting when Peaty’s long-time coach Mel Marshall accused Shymanovich of utilizing an illegal kick in his races that resulted in the Belorussian breaking Peaty’s European record. So when the two matched up in the semi finals, tension was high.

And Peaty delivered, and so did Shymanovich. The Brit broke his first world record in short course meters with a 55.49 while Shymanovich was second in 55.69. The swim lowered Cameron van der Burgh’s 2009 record exactly 11 years to the day. And a week later, the two matched up again with Peaty lowering his own record to a 55.41 with Shymanovich in at 55.49.

3. Nicholas Santos’ Near World Record


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the entire world to shut down, with swimmers out of the water and out of adequate training environments, many fans started to speculate how this would affect the upcoming Olympics that will now happen in 2021. Whether consciously or sub-consciously, a lot of swimming purists wrote off anyone over the age of 30 in who would come out of the quarantine better. But 40-year-old Nicholas Santos surprised those doubters when he nearly broke the 50 butterfly world record that he set two years ago. Santos of Team Iron had been huge for the team all season, whose strengths laid in the sprint events, as he had the tenth fastest time in the 100 fly in the league and led all swimmers in the 50 fly.

Santos’ performances went to show that he should not be counted out, and even though the 50 fly is not an Olympic event, age is just a number and just because you aren’t “young” (in swimming years) doesn’t mean you can’t get better after so many months away from training and racing.

2. Kira Toussaint’s World Record


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted all swim meets around the world, and as a summer rolled on with no Olympic Games, there were questions surrounding whether a world record would even get broken this year. And although August produced some hopeful results, still the world record books remained untouched in swimming. But when London’s Kira Toussaint swam a 25.60 to break the 50 back world record in the semi-finals, it was the first world record in the pool in quite some time. It had a similar feel to when Ryan Lochte broke the first long course world record two years after the ban on the shiny suits, opening the door to what was possible in the sport.

1. Caeleb Dressel’s 100 IM World Record

Caeleb Dressel

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

There is a reasonable debate over which of Caeleb Dressel’s world records was more impressive: the 100 IM or 100 fly. And yes, the fact Dressel swam a 47.7 to become the first man to break 48 seconds in the 100 fly was an incredible accomplishment, but what Dressel was able to do in the 100 IM this season gets the top spot as the most impressive moment of the ISL season in 2020.

Dressel’s 49.28 was nearly a full second quicker than what the world record was heading into the season as Vladimir Morozov had been a 50.26 back in 2018. Dressel first lowered the record to a 49.88 on November 16, and then six days later lowered it down even more by six tenths. His swim was so fast, that he had jackpotted the entire field except for second place finisher Marcin Cieslak, who also represented the Cali Condors and was a former Florida Gator before Dressel, as the Condors took home all 37 points in the race, basically shutting down the team race and giving the awards presenters enough time to essentially engrave the Condors roster on to the team trophy.

There was a reason why Dressel was named season MVP based on points, and even if it was put to a vote he probably still would have won.

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