NEW YORK -- Katie Ledecky capped a stunning season in the pool with a starring role on the red carpet at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle Awards on Monday night.
The 17-year-old long-distance prodigy from Bethesda, Maryland, brought home three statues from the 11th annual gala, held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Manhattan’s Time Square.
“It’s all still a bit surreal,” Ledecky said. “All of the nominees, and everybody who was awarded tonight, really deserved it. It’s been great getting to know a lot of these swimmers for the past couple of years on international trips. It’s fun to be around them and celebrate tonight.”
At the London 2012 Olympic Games, the then 15-year-old grabbed the spotlight with a surprise gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle, breaking Janet Evans’ 23-year-old U.S. record. She hasn’t yielded any ground since, posting five world-record swims this season to claim her second consecutive Female Athlete of the Year prize.
Ledecky also won a third consecutive Female Race of the Year prize for her world-record swim in the 1,500-meter free at 2014 Pan Pacific Championships (“Pan Pacs”), a 15:28.36 performance that shattered her previous world record by six seconds. She shared Relay Performance of the Year with USA Swimming teammates Missy Franklin, Leah Smith and Shannon Vreeland for winning gold with a meet record in the 4x200-meter free relay at the Pan Pacs. Her anchor leg helped lift Team USA over the host Australians.
“I concentrated more on training (the 200-meter) because of the relay,” Ledecky said. “Growing up and watching the Olympics on TV, the relay races are the ones I remember the most. Those relay exchanges, four teammates behind the box working towards a common goal, are really neat to see. We have a great female team right now and it’s really great to be part of the camaraderie.”
For Ledecky, two achievements in her momentous season stood apart: her new world records in the 1,500- and 800-meter freestyle events at the 2014 Woodlands Swim Team Senior Invitational this June in Shenandoah, Texas. She competed there after 18 days of high-altitude training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I had no expectations going into that meet, and I ended up breaking two world records,” she said. “Every other time I’ve broken a record it’s been with my USA Swimming teammates, and those are special too, but these I did with my Nation’s Capital (Swim Club) teammates, and that might never happen again.”
“I’ve been on this team for my whole life and it’s really shaped my swimming career,” she added. “I’m really blessed to have such a great coach, Bruce Gemmell, and great teammates like his son Andrew.”
It was a big night for other members of Nation’s Capital Swim Club, the elite swim team with more than 10 locations in the Washington, D.C. area. Bruce Gemmell, head coach at NCAP's Georgetown Prep site, won his second consecutive Coach of the Year award.
“Katie is great to work with, she comes from a great family,” said Gemmell, who has trained Ledecky for a little more than two years. “You cannot ask anything more from an athlete than that they show up at the pool every day and work hard, excited by the challenges and training to get better.”
Ledecky’s NCAP training partner Andrew Gemmell and Californian Haley Anderson took home Perseverance Awards for their victories in the 10-kilometer open water event at Pan Pacs. Water quality issues delayed the event for a week and shifted it from Australia to Hawaii, where it was contested alongside the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.
“It’s great to get recognition; I was really surprised, to be honest,” Andrew Gemmell, 18, said. “It’s always great to see hard work pay off. So much of what you do goes unseen. The real recognition was winning the gold this summer, and this is the cherry on the top.”
After the ceremony, father and son reflected on their coaching relationship.
“We’ve been doing it a long time,” Andrew said. “We’ve made it work really well, and obviously it’s still working well. We have a lot of fun doing it and we have a unique and special relationship. It’s a really enjoyable part of my life.”
“I don’t think it’s easier, or more difficult, to coach your son,” Bruce said. “The challenges are maybe different. But when you have an athlete like Andrew who is motivated and works hard, it’s always nice to have that.”
Michael Phelps received his fifth Golden Goggle for Male Athlete of the Year after returning from a 20-month retirement to win three gold and two silver medals at Pan Pacs. The 18-time Olympic gold medalist was suspended for six months by USA Swimming after his Sept. 30 DUI arrest and did not attend the event. Keenan Robinson, director of athlete services at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, accepted the award on Phelps’ behalf, saying the world’s most decorated Olympian is “back in the pool” and training toward goals for next season.
Connor Jaeger’s come-from-behind victory in the 1,500-meter freestyle at Pan Pacs, the first of three medals he would win at that event, took honors for Male Race of the Year. Stanford University’s Maya DiRado, a double Pan Pacs medalist (gold in the 200-meter individual medley and silver in the 400-meter individual medley), won Breakout Performer of the Year. She also got one of the evening’s biggest laughs.
“This is a huge surprise,” DiRado said. “I don’t even have my shoes on.”
Proceeds from the Golden Goggle Awards, which included a silent auction, will benefit the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative, a national safety campaign that stresses the importance of learning to swim.
“The honor and praise all of these athletes have received tonight are richly deserved, yet it’s equally important to remember that swimming is a life-saving skill,” three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines, one of the event’s hosts, said.
For more information, including details on the Make a Splash initiative, visit USASwimming.org.