Katie Ledecky attends the 2022 ESPYs on July 20, 2022 in Hollywood, Calif.
In a category that has been dominated by Team USA Olympians in the three decades of the ESPY Awards, swimmer Katie Ledecky became the latest to win Best Athlete, Women’s Sports Wednesday night at the 30th ESPYS ceremony in Los Angeles.
The 19-time world champion and seven-time Olympic gold medalist, who collected four Olympic medals last summer in Tokyo, beat out three other Americans for the award: Olympic gymnastics champion Sunisa Lee, multi-sport Paralympic superstar Oksana Masters and two-time basketball gold medalist Candace Parker. Ledecky also topped Lee, Masters and 11-time track medalist Allyson Felix for the Best Olympian, Women’s Sports award.
“To all the young athletes out there, all the young kids, young adults, find something that you really love, that you’re good at, that can be a positive force in our world,” said Ledecky in her acceptance speech. “Something that can inspire somebody else, something that can help somebody else, anything that can change our world. I think there’s so many heroes, not just in sports, but all around us.”
Ledecky was far from alone among Team USA honorees. Her U.S. swimming teammate Caeleb Dressel won the Best Olympian, Men’s Sports award after he won five gold medals in Tokyo to bump his career total up to seven.
This year marked the first that Paralympians were included in the Best Olympian category; Masters, who won gold medals in both cycling and Nordic skiing over the past year, also became the first Paralympian to be nominated for a Best Athlete category.
Paralympic stars from Tokyo were well represented in other categories, as Para triathlete Brad Snyder and Para-swimmer Jessica Long won the men’s and women’s Best Athlete with a Disability awards. Snyder won gold in Tokyo in his first Paralympic triathlon after a decorated career as a swimmer, and Long won three gold medals and six total medals in Tokyo to bring her career totals to 16 gold and 29 overall.
One of the fondest memories of last summer for U.S. soccer fans was honored as the Best Play: Megan Rapinoe’s “Olimpico” corner kick goal to open the Olympic bronze-medal game against Australia. U.S. Olympians swept the best men’s and women’s golfer awards, with Tokyo gold medalist Nelly Korda winning in the women’s category and Justin Thomas winning among men.
It was also a good night for U.S. Olympic basketball players, as 2016 gold medalist Klay Thompson won Best Comeback Athlete after returning from nearly three years out of action with injuries to help the Golden State Warriors win an NBA championship. He and the Warriors also won the award for Best Team. Parker won the award for Best WNBA Player after leading the Chicago Sky to a title.
In a special ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Felix, Rapinoe, Masters, Chloe Kim and Aly Raisman were among the modern Olympians and Paralympians joining legends such as Billie Jean King and Lisa Leslie on stage to speak about the history of and ongoing fight for equal rights for women. Each athlete spoke a line of a message of inspiration that the fight continues.
“To be honest it’s exhausting trying to convince the world of our ability, of our humanity, of our worth,” said Rapinoe.