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Team USA Swimmers Look Back On Their Favorite Highlights From 2019

By Hillary Jackson | Dec. 18, 2019, 2:01 p.m. (ET)

Regan Smith, Lilly King, Kelsi Dahlia and Simone Manuel celebrate during the medal ceremony for the women's 4x100-meter medley relay at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 28, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.


The past year has been a memorable one for U.S. swimmers, one highlighted by major championships, iconic records being shattered and the first athletes being named to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.

The biggest event of the year was the 2019 FINA World Championships in July in Gwangju, South Korea, where Americans brought home 30 total medals across pool and open water competitions.

Open water swimmers Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell opened the event on July 13 by posting top-10 finishes in the women's 10-kilometer, in the process becoming the first two U.S. athletes to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

When the action turned to the pool, Olympian Caeleb Dressel stole the show with a record eight gold medals, while in the process breaking Michael Phelps' hallowed 10-year-old world record in the 100-meter butterfly. Teenage star Regan Smith, meanwhile, claimed two world titles while breaking Missy Franklin's 200-meter backstroke world record set at the 2012 Olympic Games.

A handful of U.S. swimmers went straight from South Korea to California to compete in the national championships, and the big-time meets continued in August with the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Americans came home with 45 medals, but perhaps the most cherished were the five won by Olympian Nathan Adrian, who returned after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer earlier in the year.

As the who's who in U.S. swimming celebrated that year at the annual Golden Goggles fundraiser on Nov. 24 in Los Angeles, TeamUSA.org was able to catch up with several as they made their way across the red carpet.

U.S. swimmers shared their favorite highlight from 2019 in their own words:

For Regan Smith, it was the summer competitions: “The entire experience was so positive and so much fun. … It was just the best meet and summer that I could have ever asked for, and there wasn't, you know, one particular moment. I just think everything was so, so great, and I just enjoyed all of it.”

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For Andrew Wilson, it was participating in the FINA World Championships: “I think it was my best year yet. It was a lot of fun, and I think it gave me some good confidence going into this year. … It was my first long-course worlds, so that was like a totally different environment than I've been in before, but it was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot of things that I think will be really helpful this year.”

For Kathleen Baker, it was being on the worlds team: “2019 was one of the hardest years I've had in swimming in terms of facing a lot of adversity — I had a lot of illness and injury — but I'm happy that I still got to be able to be on that worlds team and get to celebrate so many of my teammates' successes. I definitely feel like it just makes me appreciate my gift in swimming and my love for it so much more when I'm out of the water for weeks and weeks at a time — and even months — but I'm just really looking forward to 2020, and excited to get out there and race really hard … it feels really good to feel more like myself.”

For Lilly King, it was the support of her teammates: “It was interesting for sure. Definitely a lot of ups and downs — a decent worlds, but obviously didn't want to be disqualified in the 200 breaststroke (at worlds), so that was kind of hard. But luckily enough, my teammates are great, and they really helped me overcome that.”

For Ashley Twichell, it was making the 2020 Olympic team in the 10K: “2019 has been awesome so far. It was the year I qualified for the Olympics, so it was a really fun summer, and this fall has been great, just training a little more relaxed.”

For Ella Eastin, it was getting selected for the worlds team: “Getting selected really last minute to the world championship team was a blessing and a great opportunity, but it kind of caught me by surprise, and so I definitely tried to take the opportunity and learn as much as I could from it while I was there, and I'm excited to move forward and now have a little bit more time to plan for Olympic trials and just shoot for my goals this upcoming summer.”

For Nathan Adrian, the year was “unexpected”: “How else can you describe a cancer diagnosis, a little bit of a crazy summer? And then fortunately we've kind of done our best to get back to normal this fall.”

For Simone Manuel, it was the lessons from the year: “It was a good year. It wasn't exactly how I wanted it to be, but I had some highs, and I had some lows, and I'm going to learn from it. And it's good momentum heading into 2020.”

For Katie Ledecky, it was the experiences the year brought: “World championships didn't go quite as I had planned or expected or hoped, but I'm happy with what I've learned, and all the fun experiences I've had with my teammates and the great training, and it's exciting that we're now in the 2019-2020 season and gearing up for Olympic trials.”

Caeleb Dressel, meanwhile, is looking forward to next year: “It was a good year. There's always room for improvement, so I was happy with it — but certainly not satisfied. … As a group, with Team USA, we can do much better next year. I think everyone's looking forward to it.”

Hillary Jackson is a writer based in Los Angeles, who has covered the last four Olympic Games for various media outlets. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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