By USA Swimming | Thursday, October 10, 2019
This award is given to the athlete who came back from adversity, retirement, sickness, injury, etc., to have an outstanding performance(s) in 2019, with special emphasis on the 2019 FINA World Championships.
Nathan Adrian, one of the toughest-to-beat swimmers in American history, had his toughness put to the test when a late-January doctor visit confirmed a testicular-cancer diagnosis. The next seven months consisted of doctor visits, operations, rehab and more before the three-time Olympian returned to the pool. Just over half a year after his diagnosis, Adrian was in South Korea, anchoring Team USA’s 4x100m freestyle relay team to a championship record and a gold medal at the FINA World Championships. Adrian turned in a 47.08 split, good for the fourth-fastest split in the field. After the race, relay teammate Blake Pieroni said about Adrian, “I’ve looked up to this guy for so long... He’s battled cancer, he’s still anchoring our relays and he’s been there for us all the time. I just think it’s amazing what he’s done.” Adrian earned another gold swimming in the prelims of the 4x100m freestyle relay and anchored the 4x100m medley relay to secure silver at worlds. As if swimming for Team USA on the world championships stage was not enough, a few weeks later, Adrian would put on the American flag cap at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. It was there where Adrian captained Team USA to 45 total medals, while individually topping all American male swimmers with five medals of his own. While 2019 started off with a gut-wrenching setback, Adrian’s eight international medals are a symbol of his will to fight both in and out of the pool.
If her 15 career world championships medals and 10 TYR Pro Swim Series victories in 2019 were evidence of anything to come, it was that Katie Ledecky was set for another jaw-dropping worlds performance in 2019. Her high expectations were tested early in South Korea, as her lead in the 400m freestyle on day one of the 2019 FINA World Championships started to slip away. A sickness had overcome her and caused her to lose grip of her half-second lead in the final 50 meters of the event. While Ledecky hung on to a silver medal in the event, something clearly was not right to the distance juggernaut who had won the event at each of the three previous world championships competitions. Ledecky’s illness overcame her to the point where she had to go to a hospital in South Korea to receive care. As the competition went on, Ledecky had to drop out of the 200m and 1500m freestyle races. On the second-to-last day in South Korea, Ledecky willed herself back to the pool, still battling her debilitating illness, and concluded her competition by winning the 800m freestyle world title with a gutsy final 50 meters to pull away from the field. The win was Ledecky’s lone gold medal from this world championships but was a true testament to the toughness she shows in the water. “Each swim at these meets is unique and has its own story, this one definitely has one that I’ll be telling for a while,” Ledecky said.
As the lone female in her 30s on Team USA’s World Championships roster, Ashley Twichell was trying to break new ground at the 2019 FINA Open Water World Championships. While she has seen tremendous success at Open Water World Championships for several years, an Olympic berth had very narrowly eluded her in the past two Olympic years. In 2012, Twichell finished as the second-best American at the Olympic qualifier when Team USA could only take one swimmer to London. In 2016, Twichell was recovering from a shoulder surgery and missed making the cut for the Olympic qualifying event (10K at the 2015 FINA World Championships) by one position. Twichell had the chance to make an Olympic team at the 2019 FINA Open Water World Championships, where she needed a top-10 finish in the 10K race to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. A nearly two-hour race came down to the wire in South Korea – with just four seconds separating first place and missing the Olympic cut – but fortunately Twichell touched in sixth place, securing her first Olympic Team slot. Twichell, whose five world championships medals put her at a tie with Haley Anderson for most open water worlds medals in American history, has seen tremendous open water success over her career. Now, for the first time, her success can be highlighted by a new title: Olympian.