Kate Douglass and Katie Ledecky shared the Female Athlete of the Year award to become the first co-winners of the award in the event’s history, while Ryan Murphy won his second Male Athlete of the Year award.
USA Swimming held its annual Golden Goggles awards show Monday night in Los Angeles to celebrate the national team that competed at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka this past July. This was the 20th rendition of the event that began after the 2004 Athens Olympics and has been a major fundraiser for the USA Swimming Foundation.
For the first time in the event’s history, three athletes were awarded the Athlete of the Year title, as Katie Ledecky and Kate Douglass tied for the honor. This was Ledecky’s ninth Female Athlete of the Year award and Douglass’s first.
Ledecky notably won her sixth World title in the 800m freestyle in Fukuoka, becoming the first person in history to win the same event six times. She also won her fifth World title in the 1500m freestyle and won a pair of silvers in the 400m and 4x200m freestyle relay.
“Well thank you, this is cool!” Ledecky said Sunday night. “Just thinking back to 20 years ago why I started in the sport. It was because my mom and dad knew and saw that swimming in a summer league swim team could make me a lot of new friends. I know that my parents were right because this room is filled with a lot of my friends, and I love the mission of the USA Swimming Foundation because it’s inspiring swimmers to learn how to swim and I know they’re going to meet a lot of friends through this sport.”
Ledecky’s greatness can be measured by her ability to stay at the top of the world, as she has hardly slowed down since winning her first Olympic gold in 2012 at age 15. Now 26, Ledecky is still the best distance swimmer in the world, and has won the most individual World Championships gold medals, winning her 16th title this past year, breaking the tie she held with Michael Phelps.
“No, I never dreamt of even coming to meets like this,” Ledecky said after winning the 800m free in Japan. “To be here and having a bunch of world championships now, it is amazing. I am loving every second and just trying to enjoy each moment.”
Douglass on the other hand won her first individual World title this July, taking the 200m IM gold to back up all the success and hype she has accumulated at the domestic level. After tearing apart the record books in the short course venues, she had a lot of eyes on her to see if she could get it done at the long course level. She had already won Olympic bronze two years ago, and won the World Short Course title in December, but getting it done in a long course Worlds final was another animal. And she handled with poise, winning the 200m IM ahead of teammate Alex Walsh.
“I am really happy about that race,” Douglass said in Fukuoka after winning gold. “I really just wanted to get the gold for ‘Team USA’ tonight and I am so happy that I did that. I think this year I just tried to conserve a little bit more energy in the prelims, and I think I did a great job with that. I was ready to race tonight.”
Douglass also won an individual silver in the 200m breaststroke four nights later, and also finished fourth in the 100m freestyle. Douglass, who just turned 22 last week, anchored the 4x100m medley relay team to gold, and won three additional medals in relays during the week.
“I want to thank the USA Swimming Foundation for supporting all of us athletes, my family, my coach Todd DeSorbo at UVA and my teammates that are here today,” Douglass said after winning the award.
Ryan Murphy won his second athlete of the year award, backing up his win from 2018. Murphy was the only male to win an individual gold medal in an Olympic event at the Worlds this year, taking the 100m backstroke in a thrilling finish over the defending champion and world record holder Thomas Ceccon of Italy. The win was Murphy’s first World title in the 100m backstroke as he has been making finals at the international level since 2014.
Murphy has long been one of the best backstrokers in the world as he also won silver in the 200m backstroke and led off the United States’s gold medal winning 4x100m medley relay. He also won bronze for the mixed medley relay. At age 28, he has been one of the major leaders for the United States men’s team since the retirement of Michael Phelps, and one of the most respected athletes in the sport. On stage, he received the award from 2012 Olympic champion Matt Grevers, who served as a mentor for Murphy in his early days on the national team.
“It is incredible to get an award from Matt Grevers,” Murphy said on stage. “A pivotal part in my career was 2012 Olympic Trials. I made the trials finals in the 100 back in lane two as a 16-year-old. I got to watch Grevers and Nick Bowman celebrate making the Olympic Team. They were the number one and number two times in the world and right after that race, I was in the media zone not five minutes after when Matt Grevers walks by me, taps me on the shoulder and says ‘You’re next, kid.’ I think that level of confidence you had in me - that little urge to believe in myself, meant a lot to me and in my career and it helped propel me to a lot of the success that I had. Go USA.”
Murphy’s teammate at Cal Berkeley, Jack Alexy, was awarded the Breakout Performer of the Year award for his two individual silvers in the 50m and 100m freestyle in Fukuoka, the latter in which he nearly won the gold medal from lane eight. Alexy, age 20, last wore the stars and stripes at the 2019 World Juniors in Budapest as a relay only swimmer in which he raced just in the heats. Flash forward four years later, and he anchored the team to gold in the men’s medley relay and is now the face of the men’s 4x100m freestyle team as they look to get the gold back from Australia next year.
Alexy and Murphy both swim for Cal Berkeley head coach Dave Durden, who was awarded with Coach of the Year for the second time after he initially won in 2016. Durden also coached the likes of individual medal winners Dare Rose and Hunter Armstrong as he is the head coach of the men’s and women’s team at Cal Berkeley. Durden was not on hand to accept the award but provided an acceptance speech from Berkeley.
“It just says a lot about our staff; it says a lot about our athletes that competed in Fukuoka for the USA – certainly proud of them too,” Durden said. “I’m certainly very flattered and very honoured. Go Bears.”
The perseverance award was given to Lydia Jacoby after she won bronze in the 100m breaststroke at Worlds. Swimming from the outside lane, she wasn’t one of the favorites to reach the podium, but she was able to win her first Worlds medal in the process.
“I just barely slipped into semi finals and just barely slipped into finals,” Jacoby said in Fukuoka. “So I was kind of talking down to myself a lot yesterday, and then I woke up this morning, I was feeling good, and ready to get out there and do it. So I'm really happy with where I am. I wasn't even at this meet last year so to be on the podium again is huge.”
After winning the Olympic gold in 2021 at age 17, Jacoby missed the Worlds team in 2022 and has since been open about her mental health struggles after the Tokyo Olympics.
“This means so much,” Jacoby said Sunday night. “I was up here in 2021 straight out of the Olympic Games at 17 receiving breakout swimmer of the year, and I would have never imagined that in just two years I would be up here receiving an award for perseverance…for everyone in this room who has struggled with something and has overcome something in the last two years, whether that’s in the office, in the pool, at work, at home, in your personal life or even in your head, I’d like to accept this award on behalf of all of you so thank you so much.”
The relay performance of the year was won by the women’s 4x100m medley relay team that won their fourth straight World title. The team of Regan Smith, Lilly King, Gretchen Walsh and Kate Douglass swam 3:52.08 on the final night to beat Olympic champs Australia by over a second.
“It meant a lot for us to finish out with a bang,” Smith said after winning gold in Japan. “I think the USA knows how to do medley relays really well. We just had something to prove tonight. We’ve all had great weeks but we’ve also had our ups and downs and I think we wanted to end on a really positive note and I think we executed perfectly and we did just that.”
“This is the race you look forward to,” King said. “It is our favorite way to close out the meet and I am really glad I got to race with these girls.”
The race of the year was won by Katie Grimes for her 10K bronze at Worlds on the first day of competition, while Bobby Finke won for his silver in the 1500m freestyle in one of the most thrilling races on the final night.
Grimes was able to solidify automatic qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Paris by virtue of her bronze in the open water race.
“This is my first time getting on the podium (for open water),” Grimes said in Fukuoka. “It was really just trying to do better and better each race that I had. I knew this was where I was going to really need to get it done. I am one step closer to my goals and this is really big for me. I am really honored to represent the USA in Paris.”
Grimes also won the inaugural Fran Crippen Open Water Swimmer of the Year award on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Finke broke his own American record and put up the third fastest time in history. Finke and Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui put up one of the best races in World Championships history that will be talked about for years.
“(Ahmed) pushed me faster than I thought I could go so I’m looking forward to racing him more often,” Finke said in Fukuoka. “I know he also has some finishing speed so I knew at the 1000m mark it was probably going to come down to a dogfight in the last 50, so to be able to race him, and put up a good time, even though it was second, I'm happy with it.”
Legendary coach of the University of Texas Eddie Reese won the Impact Award as the 82-year-old will be wrapping up his illustrious coaching career after the 2024 Olympics next year.
“Awards are not really my thing - you guys are my thing,” Reese said. “We’re the best sport in the world and we’ve got the best people in the world doing it. I love it because of that. It’s given me a lot of opportunities. It’s never been a job; it’s always been a lifestyle. I know I use the word retirement, but I brought that out of my dictionary 10 years ago, but I’m really just going to change jobs.”
USA Swimming also debuted the Alumni Award, which is “presented to a standout National Team alum who has and continues to give back to the sport following retirement.”
The inaugural award was given to 2000 Olympic champion Lenny Krayzelburg.
“Well, this was a surprise for sure. I wasn’t expecting it, I just thought I was just giving an award, not receiving one,” Krayzelburg said. “Obviously my success in the sport started at home with my family, but it was the people who came along the way and helped me achieve my great success. It’s only because of their support and their commitment that I was able to achieve great success in the pool. Beyond the pool, you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with and it starts respect, love, trusting people and giving people an opportunity to dream big and succeed.”
USA Swimming will turn its attention to the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, in which it just announced its roster Tuesday evening highlighted by Douglass and Grimes.