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Associated Press names Aaron Judge, Katie Ledecky as its 2022 athletes of the year

The Associated Press Friday announced New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge and Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky as their athletes of the year for 2022. It's Judge's first time being picked for the honor, while it was Ledecky's second time being chosen. 

The AP cited Judge's 62 home runs this past season, an American League record, as the reason he was selected by a panel of 40 writers and editors from news outlets in the U.S. He broke a record that had stood for six decades. 

It also cited Ledecky's performance at the FINA World Championships, in which she set multiple world records, as the reason why she was chosen.  

The Yankees outfielder edged Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, last year's winner, in voting announced Friday. Stephen Curry of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors finished third.

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers - Game Two
Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases after hitting his 62nd home run of the season against the Texas Rangers. Ron Jenkins / Getty Images

Judge joins an esteemed fraternity of honorees that includes Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. Among the former Yankees to win were Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris — the man who established the previous AL mark of 61 homers in 1961.

"Wow. That's incredible," Judge said of his selection. "All these other great athletes that not only impacted the game and their sport, but also impacted their communities and the culture in the sports world and outside the sports world. So getting a chance to be amongst that list is an incredible honor."

Judge hit 16 more homers than any other big league player, the largest gap since Jimmie Foxx hit 58 for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932 and Babe Ruth had 41 for the Yankees.

And while Barry Bonds holds the major league record of 73 home runs in a season for San Francisco in 2001 during baseball's steroid era, the achievement by Judge had some fans celebrating what they view as baseball's "clean" benchmark.

YE AP Female Athlete of the Year
Gold medalist Katie Ledecky of the United States poses with her medal after the Women 800m Freestyle final at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, June 24, 2022. Petr David Josek / AP

Ledecky, who previously won the award in 2017, edged out American track star Sydney McLaughlin in balloting announced Wednesday.

The two tied in total points, but Ledecky got the nod based on 10 first-place votes to McLaughlin's nine. Basketball standout A'ja Wilson finished third.

"I know so many great athletes have won this honor," Ledecky said. "I'm really happy — happy with how my year went, and also excited about the future."

Ledecky, who won her first Olympic gold medal in 2012 at age 15, has managed to stay on top in female freestyle swimming's longest pool events for the better part of a decade.

She has held the long-course world record in both the 800- and 1,500-meter free since 2013, rarely facing a serious challenge in either of those grueling races.

At this year's world aquatics championships in Budapest, Hungary, Ledecky touched first in the 800 by more than 10 seconds and won the 1,500 by nearly 15 seconds. She also claimed gold in the 400 free and was part of the winning U.S. team in the 4x200 free relay.

Before 2022 was done, Ledecky added two more world records to her ledger. She set short-course marks in both the 800 and 1,500 a week apart — even though she rarely competes in the 25-meter pool.

But the real enjoyment for Ledecky comes when no one is cheering her on, when it's just her and her coaches and teammates, putting in the long, lonely hours of training.

"I might be one of the few swimmers who loves the training even more than the racing," she said. "Don't get me wrong: I love the racing, too. But I truly enjoy going to practice every day. I'm excited when I go to bed for practice in the morning."

Ledecky tackled a brutal program at the Tokyo Games, where women competed in the 1,500 free for the first time. As expected, she swept the 800-1,500 double but came up short to Australian rival Ariarne Titmus in two shorter freestyle events.

Ledecky settled for silver behind Titmus in the 400 and didn't even win a medal in the 200, finishing 1 1/2 seconds behind the Aussie in fifth place.

It was the first time Ledecky failed to win a medal in an Olympic race.

"There were some things I would've liked to be better in Tokyo," she conceded. "But also, I was really stretching myself, I was swimming 1,500 at the Olympics for the first time, while also swimming the 200 free. The events were even on the same day, which is something I don't think anyone else was doing. It was a challenge I had set my mind to for many years, something I wanted to take on. I don't regret taking that on."

The fifth-place finish was certainly an anomaly in Ledecky's stellar career.

Over three Olympic appearances, she has claimed seven gold medals and three silvers. At the biennial world championships, Ledecky has piled up a staggering 19 gold medals along with three silvers.

She has every intention of going faster.

Ledecky is focused squarely on the 2024 Paris Games, where she'll likely compete in at least four events. She even is glimpsing ahead to her home-country Olympics at Los Angeles in 2028.

She'll be 31 by then but sees no reason why she can't stay on top.

"I'm always setting new goals for myself," Ledecky said. "I enjoy the process more and more every year. What it takes to stay at this level. What it takes to continue to have your eyes set on something that's a couple of years away."

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