By USA Swimming | Thursday, October 3, 2019
Breakout Performer of the Year
This award is given to the athlete whose performance(s) stand out in relation to other years, with special emphasis on the 2019 FINA World Championships.
The former Georgia Bulldog standout had a stellar 2019, headlined by a silver medal in the 200m butterfly at the 2019 FINA World Championships. The silver medal was evidence of the immense progress she has shown over the past few years, as she finished ninth in the event at the 2017 FINA World Championships, missing the finals-qualifying cut by a mere eight one-hundredths of a second. Her silver-medal swim in 2019 was over nine tenths faster than the mark she posted in 2017, and good for her first individual worlds medal. Flickinger excelled domestically as well, becoming one of only five female swimmers to earn 10 top-three finishes in TYR Pro Swim Series events. While she wasn’t alone in the double-digit club for top-3 finishes, Flickinger was the lone swimmer to reach the mark in more than two strokes– finishing top-3 in three butterfly, three backstroke, two freestyle and two IM events. Her progress spanned across multiple strokes and distances in 2019, as she bested five of her personal-best times, lowering career marks in the 100m fly, 200m free, 800m free, 200m back and 400m IM.
Individual medals in the 400m IM had narrowly eluded Jay Litherland at the 2016 Olympic Games, 2017 World Championships and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. In his only race in Gwangju, he entered the final 100 meters of the 400m IM more than three seconds behind leader Daiya Seto of Japan. While the lead looked insurmountable, Litherland turned on the burners with a 56.99 freestyle split, nearly catching Seto. Litherland finished with a time of 4:09.22—a personal best— and a long-awaited silver medal at a major international competition. His time was 1.8 seconds faster than his Olympic qualifying swim at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming and marked just the 13th time in the event’s history that it has seen a sub-4:10 time. In 2019 TYR Pro Swim Series competition, Litherland recorded three IM victories– the most by any competitor– while his four total wins ranked fifth among male swimmers.
Hannah Moore had only taken to open water swimming a year ago, then unexpectedly found herself disqualified during the 10-kilometer race at the 2019 Open Water Nationals in Miami in May. With a fighting spirit, she rebounded two days later to qualify for her first FINA World Championships team with her third-place finish in the 5k. Once in South Korea, Moore swam to a tie for the bronze medal in the 5k with Leonie Beck of Germany and just two seconds behind the gold medalist. The bronze medal was one of only two individual medals captured by an American swimmer at the FINA Open Water World Championships.
Regan Smith shined in her lone individual event at the 2019 FINA World Championships. In the semifinals of the women’s 200m backstroke, Smith entered the water as the youngest competitor in a pool that featured four of the top-10 swimmers in the world in the event. Smith soared past the elite swimmers next to her, beating her personal best by nearly three seconds and smashing Missy Franklin’s 2012 world record with a time of 2:03.35. The following day, the 17-year-old would go on to win the gold in the 200m back – her first World Championships medal– with a time of 2:03.69. Both performances bested Franklin’s record, which was thought to be one of the toughest women’s records to break, and puts Smith as the only female to break the 2:04 mark. Smith pocketed another gold in Gwangju after leading off the 4x100m medley relay, where she also broke the 100m back world record with her time of 57.57 en route to Team USA’s world-record breaking relay performance. Smith also won five events in TYR Pro Swim Series competitions and captured a national title in the 200m butterfly at the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships.