Marchand, O’Callaghan & McKeown: SOS Swimmers Of The Year For 2023
Leon Marchand, Mollie O’Callaghan and Kaylee McKeown, the star turns at the World Championships in Fukuoka last July, are the picks for Swimmers of the Year in our State of Swimming SOS 2023 Awards.
We began our picks for 2023 with Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke, the recipients of the SOS Carlile Cup for Lifetime Achievement, their work on truth, justice, reconciliation and clean sport worthy of the Olympic Order – if only the IOC gave their top honours not to politicians ( including many from places in the world where democracy is given little or no oxygen and some who have clearly done enormous damage to athletes) and business folk but to those who truly do the hard graft on athlete welfare.
We continue the awards with the top swimmers and performances of the year.
If Marchand’s golden triple in solo events included the performance of the year, his 4:02.50 World record in the 400m medley, then O’Callaghan’s pioneering double in the 100 and 200m freestyle was bolstered by three relay golds (both women’s freestyle quartets and the Mixed freestyle quartet) in World-record times, her five titles joined by a silver in the women’s 4x100m medley.
If any are wondering why three golds and two silvers can be a match for five golds, a silver and four world records, the answer rests in opportunity. The fact is, as we all know, freestylers have far more chances to aim at than stroke specialists. Both Australians won everything they could have won, McKeown claiming a pioneering sweep of three backstroke titles, O’Callaghan two solo titles in pioneering fashion, too. Both women are world-record holders and took standards to new heights in 2023. Both women benefit from being part of the strongest Australian women’s team in history, their relay achievements reflecting that.
Their soaring solo and relay efforts contributed to Australia’s triumph as top nation at the helm of the medals table in Fukuoka 22 years after the Dolphins last toppled the United States at World titles, in the same Japanese city.
SOS Coverage Of The 20th World Aquatics Championships in Full:
On balance, it would have been possible (and obvious) to give the female-swimmer-of-year nod to O’Callaghan alone but the gap between the teammates, taking into account the difference in relay opportunities (5 to 2) presents us with something of a 0.001sec victory moment: that dimension was ruled ridiculous since Gunnar Larson and Tim McKee proved it in 1972. Splitting hairs in the face of the mastery of Mollie and Kaylee would seemed equally ridiculous to me as judge and jury. You’ll all have your own counts and thoughts. These are mine – so there it is.
Marchand – The Edge On Several Levels
In the case of Marchand, the Frenchman had a clear edge on all opposition on several grounds, including margin of victory over opposition and soaring multi-event versatility. The latter stretched from medley to butterfly, the 4×200 freestyle relay for France and what might have been a closer call in the 200m breaststroke for the man closest to him in the race of male swimmer of the year, Qin Haiyang, had Marchand been able to squeeze in another event in his towering program.
Marchand’s status as best all-rounder in the world made him the standout at the only global event in 2023 that featured the very best in the world in peak form across the board at the level of all national selections of two per event per country. The female equivalent was Canadian Summer McIntosh, who features twice in the other awards in this file (continental cups and champions of versatility) and in other categories to come.
A Short Note on the Long and Short of It
Fukuoka was also long-course, the ultimate measure of excellence in swimming, the Olympic dimension with the longest, uninterrupted thread of history since the 50m pool became THE standard atop all other standards. There are valid arguments for shifting that dynamic in the big spaces between Olympics and long-course race season but that’s a discussion we’ll be having apart, in greater depth, as we settle into Olympic year 2024.
Of course, there’s no dismissing the stunning World Cup season that brought McKeown’s 2023 international tour to a close but the gold standard was settled in Fukuoka and that is what the SOS Awards focus on, short-course honours reserved for years in which the World gathers for global championships in the 25m pool.
Four For Marchand – Inc., Performance Of Year, Continental Cup &Champions of Versatility
Marchand has it all. His world record in the 400m medley, a 4:02.50 that wiped out the 4:03.84 epic standard of Michael Phelps when the American claimed the first of his record eight golds at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, tipped the balance strongly in his favour for overall swimmer of the year.
The Marchand march into the pantheon on the way to a home Olympics in Paris this July included the performance of the year, while O’Callaghan and teammate Ariarne Titmus take joint honours for the female performances of the year: both delivered sensational world records worthy of the snap.
SOS Swimmers Of The Year
Marchand, O’Callaghan, McKeown
- Overall and Male Swimmer of the Year : Leon Marchand (FRA)
- Female swimmers of the year: Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS) and Kaylee McKeown (AUS)
Performances of the Year:
- Men – 400m medley: Leon Marchand (FRA)
- Women – 200m freestyle WR Mollie O’Callaghan (AUS) & 400m freestyle World record Ariarne Titmus (AUS)
Marchand – the Big Three
Marchand 4:02.50 WR: Race Video & What He Said After Confining Phelps’ 4:03.84 Epic To History – Performance of the Year
O’Callaghan – The Big Two Plus Three Relays
McKeown – The Big Three
Titmus – The 400 Scorcher
The other Female Performances of the Year:
Champions of Versatility
More on the versatility of these and others swimmers to come but in 2023, here are the two obvious standouts:
Men: Leon Marchand (links as above)
Women: Summer McIntosh (CAN)
Female: Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA)
Male: Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN)
Female: Summer McIntosh (CAN) – links as above – and Katie Ledecky (USA)
Male: Ryan Murphy (USA)
Female: Zhang Yufei (CHN)
Male: Qin Haiyang (CHN)
Female: Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)
Male: Marchand (links as above)
Female: O’Callaghan and McKeown (links as above)
Male: Kyle Chalmers (AUS)
Tomorrow: Relays; Open Water Swimmers; The Courage Cup; and Coaches Of The Year