Two weeks before the world championships, Caeleb Dressel was in tears after multiple practices going into the biggest meet of the year.
“Just because how bad I was doing,” Dressel said of his workouts. “I knew the pressure that was coming with it, what I expected of myself. So, it wasn’t an easy year, just the mental doubt I had coming into worlds.”
Four months later, Dressel stood at the podium of Sunday night’s Golden Goggles to receive two major awards — Male Race of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year, each for the second time.
Dressel earned a record eight medals at worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, including six golds and a world record in the 100m butterfly, taking Michael Phelps‘ mark off the books.
He reflected in his acceptance speech for Race of the Year for that 100m fly.
“If I can leave you with something, just don’t ever compare yourself to anyone,” Dressel said. “I’m not in this to beat one person in particular, which a lot of you can guess who I’ve been compared to. It’s not me. I don’t swim the same events. He’s a much better swimmer. I’m not in this to beat anybody’s medal count, records. I just want to see how far I can take this. I’m just a kid from Green Cove [Springs, Fla.] who has no business taking it as far as I have. I just want to see how far I can take it.”
Simone Manuel broke Katie Ledecky‘s six-year streak of winning Female Athlete of the Year. While Ledecky struggled at worlds with illness, her Stanford teammate Manuel earned seven medals, including four golds, and swept the 50m and 100m frees.
“When I first started in swimming, it was pretty difficult for me,” Manuel said. “It still is difficult to this day. But, often times, I didn’t feel like I fit in or it was the sport for me. Often times, people questioned why I was swimming because I’m not supposed to swim. And it’s really difficult. I never thought that I would see the day where I would stand up here and receive this award. What I’ve learned through this journey, even though it’s been very hard, is to follow your passion. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything.”
Regan Smith‘s incredible worlds performance — three world records in two races — was rewarded with Female Race of the Year (200m backstroke) and Breakout Performer of the Year.
“Before this summer, I was really just a little kid who had no idea what was going on in swimming,” said the 17-year-old from Minnesota. “I still am, but I feel like after this summer I really have a new perspective.”
Nathan Adrian, who came back from testicular cancer to be part of three relays at worlds, earned the Perseverance Award. He accepted while sporting a mustache for Movember.
“It’s a reminder to men out there, who actually on average live almost eight years less life than women, and one of the contributing factors to that is because they don’t see the doctor when they first notice something is wrong,” Adrian said. “To all you men out there, go see the doctor.”
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