Marchand, O’Callaghan & McKeown: SOS Swimmers Of The Year For 2023

2024-01-03 No comments Reading Time: 7 minutes
SOS Swimmers of the Year (clockwise from top left): Kaylee McKeown, Leon Marchand and Mollie O'Callaghan - all photos by Patrick B. Kraemer

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:

Australia Dominate Gold Count As Dolphins, Eagles & Dragons Take Lion’s Share Of Medals

Fukuoka 2023 Results 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.

Leon MARCHAND of France on his way out after winning in the Men's 200m Individual Medley (IM) Final during the swimming events of the 20th World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)
Leon Marchand (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

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

In the steps of giants: Leon Marchand and Michael Phelps after the medals ceremony in Fukuoka (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

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

Leon Marchand (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)


Marchand Keeps Marching With 1:52 Victory In 200 ‘Fly & Lane 4 Ticket To Next Medley Final


Marchand Sings Les Bleus – A Song Of Providence For Paris After Third Gold In 1:54.82 200 Medley ER

Marchand 4:02.50 WR: Race Video & What He Said After Confining Phelps’ 4:03.84 Epic To HistoryPerformance of the Year

Leon Marchand Heralded By Michael Phelps After Magnificent 4:02.50 Takes American’s Last World Record Down In Fukuoka Flames

O’Callaghan – The Big Two Plus Three Relays

Mollie O’Callaghan (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

O’Callaghan Retains Crown in 52.16 As First In History To Take 100-200 Free Double At Worlds

O’Callaghan Pops Pellegrini 2009 World 200 Free Record With 1:52.85 Blast Past Aussie Olympic Champ Teammate Titmus For Dolphin 1-2 Performance of the Year

Australia Gathers Unstoppable Momentum On Decade-Long Bull Run With Timewarp 3:27.96 World-Record

Dolphins Destroy 4x200m Free WR – 7:37.50 From O’Callaghan, Jack, Throssell & Titmus

McKeown – The Big Three

Kaylee McKEOWN of Australia celebrates after winning in the Women’s 200m Backstroke Final already her 3rd title after already winning the 50m and 100m Backstroke during the swimming events of the 20th World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Saturday, July 29, 2023. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)
Kaylee McKeown – three into one does go (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)


McKeown 1st To Win 50-100 Back Worlds Double On Way To Shot At Triple

Kaylee McKeown Roars To 100 Back Gold On Fuel Of 200IM DQ

Kaylee McKeown Take Trailblazing Treble On Backstroke With 2:03.8 Victory

Titmus – The 400 Scorcher

Ariarne Titmus, photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

The other Female Performances of the Year:

Ariarne Titmus Turns Three-Way Fight Into A Left-Right Knockout With 3:55.38 World Record

Dolphins Open Worlds Account With Day Of Dominance in Fukuoka: 4 Golds & 2 World Records, for Ariarne Titmus & Women’s 4×100 Free

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)

Summer McINTOSH of Canada prepares herself before competing in the Women’s 200m Butterfly Final during the swimming events of the 20th World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)
Summer McIntosh prepares to take a last stand in Fukuoka (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Ariarne Titmus Turns Three-Way Fight Into A Left-Right Knockout With 3:55.38 World Record

Summer McIntosh Bounces Back With 2:04.06 Americas & World Junior Record To Retain 200 ‘Fly Title

Summer McIntosh Ends Fukuoka Test On A High With 4:27.11 CR Victory – Second Fastest Ever – & Two Titles Retained

Continental Cups


Female: Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA)

Schoenmaker Takes 200 Breast Title in 2:20.80 As Douglass & Shouten Lock Defender King Off Podium

Ahmed Hafnaoiu of Tunisia (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Male: Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN)

Hafnaoui Tops Historic 800 With 7:37.00 African Textile Mark Ahead Of Oceania, American & European Records By Short, Finke & Wiffen

Finke & Wiffen Lead the Way With Hafnaoui & Short Poised For Furious 1500 Curtain Closer

Hafnaoui Fends Off Finke By 0.05sec For 1500 Victory & Distance Double A Slither Shy Of WR


Female: Summer McIntosh (CAN) – links as above – and Katie Ledecky (USA)

Katie Ledecky (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Ledecky A Legend In Lights Of An 8:08 Record 6th 800 Free World Title, Li & Titmus On 8:13 Asia/Oceania Marks

Katie Ledecky Makes It A High-Five Splash of 1500 World Titles In A Decade Of Dominance

Male: Ryan Murphy (USA)

Murphy Takes Ceccon By 0.05 To Complete Set Of 100/200 Golds At Olympics & Worlds


Qin Haiyang, courtesy of World Aquatics, #AQUAFukuoka23

Female: Zhang Yufei (CHN)

Zhang Yufei Leads A Refshuffle Of Tokyo Olympic Podium For The Crown At Last

Male: Qin Haiyang (CHN)

Qin Dreams Of Peaty’s Pioneering Pace After 26.29 Dash Win For Breaststroke Double

Qin Haiyang 57.69 Asian Mark A First For Self & China Ahead Of Triple Silver

Qin Haiyang’s Road Unparalleled To World Supremacy on Breaststroke: WR 2:05.48 Makes Him 1st Ever 50-100-200 Treble Champion


Female: Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE)


Ruta Meilutyte (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Ruta Meilutyte 29.16 WR Turns Back The Clock For Breaststroke Double 10 Years On After Debut World Title

Ruta Meilutyte Equals WR 29.30 In 50m Breaststroke Semi Final … 10 Years On – Video

Ruta Meilutyte Makes 1:04.6 Return To Top Of World After 10 Years

Ruta Meilutyte Back Down To 1:04 In 100 Heats At Worlds A Decade On, Past & Present In The Wash

Sarah Sjostrom (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)


Sarah Sjostrom Sizzles On 23.62 To Keep 50 Free Crown 0.01sec Shy Of Her Day-Old WR – Now Has More Solo Medals Than Phelps & Ledecky

Sjostrom The Dashing Queen Of Sprint Swimming: 5th 50 Fly Title Followed By 23.61 World Record 50 Free 12 Minutes Later

Male: Marchand (links as above)


Female: O’Callaghan and McKeown (links as above)

Kyle Chalmers (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Male: Kyle Chalmers (AUS)

Chalmers 47.15 Stubs Out Alexy’s Outside Smoker With Blast Back From 7th At Turn

M4x100m Free – Kyle Chalmers 46.56 Delivers Gold No4 For Australia

Australia 4×100 Mixed Free Quartet Go WR 3:18.83 Ahead Of USA & Great Britain ER

Tomorrow: Relays; Open Water Swimmers; The Courage Cup; and Coaches Of The Year

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