Whether it was Caeleb Dressel stockpiling world titles in the swimming pool, Brady Ellison winning a historic archery world title or Daniel Romanchuk’s continued breakout as a wheelchair marathoner, U.S. men put together a year to remember in 2019.
With the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, several of these men are in position to battle for gold medals next summer as well.
Before turning the page to the Olympic and Paralympic year, though, it’s worth stopping to take a look back at the memorable U.S. men who defined 2019.
Here are Team USA’s top 19 men of 2019:
Aaron Blunck, Freestyle Skiing
Blunck’s 2019 reached a high in February when he successfully defended his men’s halfpipe world title with a big third and final run in Park City, Utah, defeating two-time Olympic champion David Wise, among others. The two-time Olympian kicked off the current ski season by taking third in the opener in New Zealand in September and then in mid-December had the chance to defend his title at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in Colorado. He had to battle fresh snow and poor visibility — not ideal conditions for halfpipe — but came out on top for a second straight grand prix title.
Joe Berenyi, Para-cycling
Talk about versatility. Berenyi captured a medal of every color at the track cycling world championships, winning his fifth gold medal in a row in the C3 time trial, silver in the scratch race and bronze in the team sprint in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Then the two-time Paralympian went to the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 and did the same thing, this time on the road with a gold in the individual time trial, silver in the individual pursuit and bronze in the road race. In December he was named among the 15 athletes who will represent Team USA at the 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships beginning Jan. 30 in Ontario.
Donavan Brazier, Track and Field
Winning a world title is even more special when you’re the first American to do so, and that’s what Brazier accomplished in the 800-meter in October at the world championships in Doha, Qatar. It’s even better when you also set a new American and world championships record, and he did that, too, breaking Johnny Gray’s 34-year-old U.S. record with his time of 1:42.34. The precursor to that achievement was coming from eighth place at 400 meters to first and becoming the first U.S. man to win the Diamond Trophy in the 800-meter with what was then the third-fastest time in American history.
Nathan Chen, Figure Skating
Simply put, Chen dominated men’s figure skating in 2019. He won his third straight U.S. title, but the pinnacle was becoming the first American man since 1984 to win back-to-back world titles with a record-breaking free skate score and total score. He beat two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan for the win, then beat him again in a runaway victory for his third straight Grand Prix Final title in December. Chen landed five quads and won by 43.87 points to continue his nearly two-year winning streak. Between those victories, Chen also helped the U.S. take the crown at the World Team Trophy and won both his grand prix assignments. Nobody has beaten Chen since he finished fifth at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The 20-year-old was named Male Olympic Athlete of the Year at the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year.
Chris Corning, Snowboarding
The men’s slopestyle final at the world championships was canceled because of high winds, but the gold medal was awarded to the highest qualifier and that person was Corning. The 2018 Olympian also accumulated four world cup podiums to defend his crystal globe in slopestyle and finished second for the season in big air. So far this season he’s been on the podium all three times in big air, with a win in at the opener in Cardrona, New Zealand, a third-place finish in Modena, Italy, and another third-place finish in Beijing. The three-time crystal globe winner is well on his way to making it four.
Keyshawn Davis, Boxing
The 20-year-old from Norfolk, Virginia, was the runner-up at his Pan American Games debut in the light welterweight (64 kg.) final but it was his world championship debut that really made his year. Davis advanced to the championship bout in the lightweight division. Although he lost, in winning the silver medal he brought home the first U.S. world championship medal in the division in 26 years. He was the lone U.S. boxer to make a final in an Olympic division at the world championships, and Davis recently won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the lightweight division (although the somewhat complicated process by which U.S. boxers will win spots on the Olympic team is ongoing).
Mick Dierdorff, Snowboarding
Success may have been a long time coming for the 2018 Olympian, but the payoff was doubly rewarding. Dierdorff, who made his world cup snowboardcross debut in 2009, went into the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships in Utah still looking for his first major international win. He ended up getting not one but two over the course of three days. First Dierdorff captured the men’s world title, making him the first U.S. man to win a snowboardcross world title since Seth Wescott in 2005. Then he paired with legend Lindsey Jacobellis to double down and win gold in the inaugural mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2022.
Caeleb Dressel, Swimming
It may be easier to list events in which Dressel didn’t medal at in this summer’s world championships as he set himself up as one of the predominant athletes to watch heading into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. He became the first person ever to win eight medals at a single long-course world championships with a total of six gold and two silver medals. He won three golds in one night and set world records in the 100-meter butterfly and mixed 4x100-meter, and for his efforts was named Male Swimmer of the Meet. Add to that four personal bests set in South Korea, and it was one heck of a year for the 23-year-old from Coral Gables, Florida.
Noah Elliott, Para Snowboarding
Elliott won the gold medal in banked slalom and the bronze in snowboardcross in his Paralympic debut in 2018 and continued to make his mark in 2019. The 22-year-old from St. Charles, Missouri, made his world championships debut and after falling in qualifying came back to win the title in snowboardcross, then added bronze to the collection in banked slalom in a reversal of his Paralympic results. He headlined the roster for this year’s national team, and the childhood cancer survivor is also actively involved in the community, recently becoming a program director with the Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports program that changed his own life so greatly.
Brady Ellison, Archery
Ellison was practically unstoppable throughout the course of 2019, racking up a bunch of world cup medals both individually and in men’s and mixed team, including an unprecedented fifth career World Cup Final gold medal. The big one, though, was winning his first outdoor world championships title with a perfect shoot-off that made him the first U.S. men’s recurve world champion since 1985. In between the world championship and World Cup Final, the three-time Olympian won gold in mixed team and bronze in men’s team at the Pan American Games and set a new world record in the qualifying round with a score of 702 out of a possible 720.
Robert Griswold, Para Swimming
Griswold entered this year’s Para swimming world championships as the reigning champion in the 100-meter backstroke S8 and proved himself the best in the world again by defending his title and finishing almost six seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. Far from being his only accomplishment at the meet, however, the 2016 Paralympian also won gold in the men’s 200-meter individual medley SM8 while setting a new American record in the event, plus silver in the 400-meter freestyle and the men’s 100-meter butterfly. Earlier in the year he set a world record in the men’s 50-meter backstroke while at the World Para Swimming World Series finale, becoming the first man in the S8 class to swim the distance in under 30 seconds.
Nyjah Huston, Skateboarding
There’s no doubt that Huston will be favored to win a gold medal when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in 2020. That’s what happens when you win the world title three years in a row and are the top-ranked athlete in your sport heading into an Olympic year. Huston, who competes in the street discipline, was named to the first-ever national skateboarding team earlier this year, won his 12th gold medal at the X Games over the summer and then won not just his third world title in a row but his sixth overall at the World Skate SLS World Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The 25-year-old headlines the 2020 U.S. team heading into the new year.
Sam Kendricks, Track and Field
Another U.S. pole vault title? Check? Another Diamond Trophy? Check. Another world championship title? Check. Kendricks was on top of his game all year, first setting a new American record with a height of 6.06 meters to win his record sixth national title, then moving on to win four of seven Diamond League meets heading into the final, where he won his second Diamond Trophy. The last big goal on the list for the reigning Olympic bronze medalist was defending his world title, and he did that in dramatic fashion, defeating Sweden’s Armand Duplantis in a head-to-head battle. He’s just the second man in history to win multiple world pole vault titles.
Noah Lyles, Track and Field
Lyles is a sprinter whose goals include multiple Olympic gold medals, and this year he showed just how achievable those dreams are when he won his first world title in the men’s 200-meter. At 22 years old he was the youngest 200-meter world champion ever, and the first winner from the U.S. since Tyson Gay in 2007. He then anchored the men’s victorious 4x100-meter squad that ended a 12-year drought and posted the second fastest time ever. Lyles hopes to compete in both the 100- and 200-meter in Tokyo, and this year he became the first man ever to win the Diamond Trophy in both those events.
Joey Mantia, Long Track Speedskating
Mantia’s crowning achievement of the year was winning the gold medal in the men’s mass start at the ISU World Single Distances Championships. It was his fourth time competing at the world championships but just his third competing in mass start, and he’s now won the world title two of those three times. Then in November, the Olympian’s come-from-behind world cup victory in the mass start, which made its Olympic debut in 2018 and features as many as 24 skaters competing against one another all at the same time, gave him his second world cup gold medal in the event and his first in nearly three years. At the following world cup, he claimed silver.
Heimana Reynolds, Skateboarding
A competitor in the park discipline of skateboarding, Reynolds is much like Huston in that he heads the list of candidates to win one of the first Olympic skateboarding medals in 2020. The Honolulu native is the reigning world champion and ranked first in the world in the discipline, although unlike Huston he achieved both those things for the first time this year after winning silver at the world championships in 2018. Left off the first national team named in March, the 21-year-old Reynolds won an Olympic qualifier in July to shoot up the rankings before taking his first world title in September and was named to the national team this fall. He also won the inaugural ANOC World Beach Games this fall in Doha.
Daniel Romanchuk, Para Track and Field
In the last year, Romanchuk has firmly established himself as the top wheelchair marathoner in the world, among other accomplishments. He won both the Boston and London Marathons in the spring, then in September became the first American to win a World Marathon Majors series title for the most points won over a year. In October he won the Chicago Marathon for the second year in a row, securing his spot on the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team in the process, and then in November he defended his New York City title. The 21-year-old went from the Big Apple to the United Arab Emirates, where he claimed his first world title on the track, winning the men’s 800-meter T54.
Ben Thompson, Para Archery
Thompson’s star has been on the rise the past several years, and it reached new heights this year as he stunned an impressive field to win his first world title in the individual men’s compound event. The semifinal put him up against teammate Matt Stutzman, ranked No. 1 in the world, and after clinching the upset victory there he secured the gold medal by beating Turkey’s Murat Turan. The victory improved upon the bronze medal he won in 2017. Thompson, who was named Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year at the 2019 Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, also led the U.S. to a world record in the compound open team ranking round and ended the season ranked number one in the world.
Roderick Townsend, Para Track and Field
Townsend won gold in both the high jump and the long jump at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, and in 2019 he proved he’s still among the best in the world in both events with his performances at the World Para Athletics Championships. Townsend successfully defended his 2017 world title in the high jump T47 — again — to win the event for the third year in a row. After winning silver in the long jump T47 in 2015 and then finishing fourth in 2017, he came back to the podium with another silver medal in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.