LOS ANGELES – With the retirement of Michael Phelps and established stars like Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte absent, the U.S. swim team arrived in Budapest, Hungary, for the 2017 FINA World Championships with an opening for a new star to emerge.
By the time the competition was over, Caeleb Dressel did just that, winning seven gold medals, tying a record set by Phelps in 2007. Meanwhile, Katie Ledecky hardly needed an opening to continue her dominance as she came home with six medals, five of them gold.
For their performances, Dressel and Ledecky were named male and female Athlete of the Year on Sunday night at the USA Swimming Golden Goggle Awards in Los Angeles.
“I just want to thank the good Lord for giving me the talent to do what I love to do,” said Dressel, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in relays at the Rio Games. “I just want to keep learning in the sport and having fun with it.”
Awards were presented in eight categories, with actor, comedian and former swimmer Anders Holm emceeing the event. The event also serves as a fundraiser, with proceeds from a silent auction held during the awards ceremony going to the USA Swimming Foundation, which funds swimming and water safety programs for children and financial support to the U.S. national team.
With Team USA taking home 41 medals from Budapest, it was little surprise that the world championships were at the center of the awards, which were given out at a ceremony at the JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. Live.
In addition to his Male Athlete of the Year honor, Dressel also had two races from Budapest nominated for Male Race of the Year, his 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly, with the latter taking home the honors. The University of Florida standout’s time of 49.86 seconds in that race was just four-hundredths of a second off Michael Phelps’ world record.
Dressel also captured two other gold medals that night in Budapest on his way to becoming the first swimmer in world championships or Olympics history to win three world titles in a single session.
On the women’s side, Ledecky was named Female Athlete of the Year for the fifth consecutive year. The five-time Olympic champion and Stanford star had her most successful world championships yet, adding six medals to the nine she had won in two previous world championships, and becoming the most decorated female swimming in worlds history.
Of her 15 total world championships medals, all but one is gold.
“We all set big goals, and it means a lot when you see your goals accomplished on the scoreboard, but my first goal in the sport was to make friends,” Ledecky said on Sunday. “I want to thank all my friends in this room for making me love this sport so much.”
In the Female Race of the Year category, Lilly King was also nominated for two races. She captured the award for her world-record performance in the 100-meter breaststroke in Budapest.
King’s time of 1:04.13 shaved more than two tenths of a second off the previous world record.
King, who won two Olympic gold medals in Rio, finished nearly a second ahead of her teammate Katie Meili, who took home the silver medal.
“Before the race started that night, I was freaking out,” King recalled Sunday. “Somehow I managed to pull it together and wind up with my first world record and my first world title.”
King, who won four gold medals at the world championships, was also nominated for her world-record-setting victory in the 50-meter breaststroke in Budapest. She was also part of the women’s 4x100-meter medley team that won Relay Performance of the Year. King, along with Kathleen Baker, Kelsi Worrell and Simone Manuel, won the world title and set a world record with a time of 3:51.55 in the process.
The Breakout Performer of the Year award went to University of Louisville standout Mallory Comerford, who won five gold medals as a member of five relay teams at the world championships.
Comerford also won the 100-meter free title at the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships.
“Two years ago, I would have never dreamed I’d be up here getting this award,” Comerford said. “I’m just so blessed to have so much support and so many opportunities available to me.”
Six-time Olympic medalist Matt Grevers won the Perseverance Award.
Grevers, who won four gold medals over the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, just missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Games but rebounded in 2017, capturing a national title in the 100-meter backstroke and winning four medals in Budapest, including gold medals in the 4x100-meter medley and mixed 4x100-meter medley.
Stanford’s Greg Meehan, who coached the U.S. women at the world championships, was named Coach of the Year. His Stanford team won the 2017 NCAA women’s title and his world championship women’s team earned 14 medals, 12 of them gold.