For decades, there were two leading swimming legends carrying the torch for Team USA: Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
While a myriad of American swimmers rose and fell during the past 15 years, such as Aaron Piersol, Ian Crocker, Natalie Coughlin and others, Phelps and Lochte always made sure that the United States came home with a bag full of medals from every major meet.
In 2017, however, Team USA jumped in without its two brightest stars, with Phelps falling to retirement, and Lochte still serving his suspension after his Rio crisis. The team was fresh off a record setting performance in Rio, but besides Katie Ledecky, no dominant superstars emerged to carry the torch.
Missy Franklin was supposed to be the next superstar, but injuries and pressure have caused her to fall by the wayside, leaving Ledecky as the sole remaining focal point. This raised among American fans, wondering what the future of their team was.
But after the 2017 World Championships, there is little doubt that the future’s still bright, and that the United States will be a powerhouse in the immediate future. From top to bottom, the team is stacked with talent, no matter the event. That talent helped vault them onto to the top of the medal table, more than tripling the amount that any other nation.
Ledecky lived up to the billing early and often in the event, and while she wasn’t as dominant as expected, she still took home six medals, and five golds. After a year of changes, many expect the Stanford sophomore to resort to her mind blowing ways soon.
Caeleb Dressel broke out in a major way, taking home gold individually in the 50m and 100m freestyle along with the 100m fly. His time in the butterfly, the second fastest of all time, may be enough on its own to keep Michael Phelps out of the pool.
Lily King and Simone Manuel even kept up their new roles as USA leaders, each taking home gold in the 100m breaststroke and freestyle respectively. Chase Kalisz assumed the mantle in American male dominance in the medleys, taking home gold in the 200m and 400m.
Leading the Americans elsewhere to the top of the overall medal table were great performances from stalwart Nathan Adrian, heroics in the backstroke by Ryan Murphy, Matt Grevers and Kathleen Baker, while seemingly countless others helped carry the torch. Together they proved that the United States has more than enough depth with superstars sprinkled in to stay more than relevant on the world’s biggest stage.
When a program loses two of its best stars, it’s often thrown into flux. After a rough time in Kazan in 2015, the Rio Olympics seemed to be a swansong for United States swimming, but more than enough swimmers have stepped up to fill the vacuum. Ledecky and Dressel will lead a team of solid performers that will no doubt continue the legacy set by Phelps, Lochte and other swimmers that made the run from 2004-2016 so incredible.