For swimmers and swim fans of a certain age, the year 2009 sets off all kinds of cockles. Images of the World Record destruction that lie somewhere between love-bombing and trauma flit through our minds, leaving echos of questions about who was really all that good, with most having moved on to other careers outside of the water.
Among that era, though, there is still one star shining, arguably, as bright as she did then: Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, who reminded everyone of her brilliance on Sunday in Monaco with 24.89 in the 50 fly and 23.82 in the 50 free, both on a day where she swam multiple races.
Those 2009 World Championships where Sjostrom’s introduction to the world. She won the 100 fly in 56.06, a World Record at the time, at just 15-years-old.
She could have been a flash-in-the-pan, a supersuiter who peaked before graduating high school, but now, 14 years later, she carries on as one of the best in the world, and one of the best ever.
When we dig through the ranks of swimmers who won gold medals, or really medals of any color, at those championships, there are very few who are even still swimming at a serious level.
A handful, like Allison Schmitt, Katinka Hosszu, and Emily Seebohm, have not formally announced the conclusion of their careers, though are certainly in the closing stages of whatever might be left there.
Others, like Aaron Peirsol, Kirsty Coventry, Marieke Guehrer, and Jessicah Schipper, are long retired and moved on to other careers.
The only other World Champion from that era who is even in the same zip code to Sjostrom at this point is Russian Yulia Efimova, who won the 50 breaststroke in 2009. Like other Russians, she has been relegated to the sidelines by Russia’s war in Ukraine, and even at her most recent racing in 2021 wasn’t doing what Sjostrom did this weekend.
Every time it looked like Sjostrom is ready to take her victory lap and fly off into the sunset, she seems to bounce back. A broken elbow turned into an Olympic medal in Tokyo; missing Short Course Worlds in December turned into this breakout in May. She has gotten very good at decision-making in the late stages of career, choosing her moments and her meets and her races carefully. A lot of swimmers of her caliber can’t do that – they either need to be the six-event dynamos they used to be, or they lose interest.
What’s next for Sjostrom will be the most curious chapter of her storied career. After this weekend, she clearly remains the favorite in the 50 free and 50 fly (she won World Championships in both last summer, albeit missing a few key competitors).
But what about the 100 fly? With Torri Huske going 55-mids consistently, a place Sjostrom hasn’t been since 2017, can she still compete? Or is she better investing that energy into the 100 free, where she won silver at Worlds last year, and where there’s competition but also an opportunity for her?
And then there’s a whole other set of questions about whether the window is still open for a Swedish medley relay to find a podium spot in Paris with Sjostrom, the Hansson sisters, and a yet-unconfirmed fourth.
For everything Sjostrom has accomplished in swimming, which is almost everything, two of the few gaps in her resume are multiple gold medals in a single Olympics or an Olympic medal in a relay.
Remember the 2016 Olympics, the ones intended to make Sjostrom immortal, she won a gold, a silver, and a bronze – missing the final in the 50 free at a meet where four golds was the ceiling. Had she taken a second or even a third gold at that meet might have cemented her claim to second-best female swimmer of all time.
But she still has an opportunity, and seemingly ready to let the 100 fly go and focus on the 50 and 100 free in 2024, that could be an incredible capstone to an incredible career.
I feel that Sjostroem was introduced to us in 2008 winning the 100 Fly at the European Championships as a 14 year old.
She is some sort of unicorn dolphin.
Keeping it cool, always in control, showing up over and over. Not breaking down in the face of a 2nd or 3rd place.
For me, in the women’s SPRINT column, she’s the GOAT.
Still the owner of the 50 m and the 100 m world records in both Free and Fly.
Just imagine her medal haul had she had American or Australian relay prowess behind her.
I wish she was Aussie. If she was we probably win gold in almost every relay since 2015.
Yeah I’m not sure on all the relay cause I still think it’s gonna be the same and probably all the 4×100
Until last year she had the right cap colour.
I was just in Stockholm this past weekend and when I got there, a giant poster of her greeted me at the airport. Loved it! And I’m glad that the Swedes, just as muchs as the swimming world, appreciate how incredible she is.
To the “historians” at SwimSwam,
Please confirm the Swimmer of the Meet Awards (female) at the World Aquatics Championships (LCM) in the post supersuit era:
World Aquatics Championships (LCM)
Swimmer of the Meet Award (female)
2011 – ?
2013 – Ledecky, Katie
2015 – Ledecky, Katie
2017 – Sjostrom, Sarah
2019 – Sjostrom, Sarah
2022 – Ledecky, Katie
2011 was Rebecca Soni.
So, Sarah Sjostrom won in 2017 and 2019.
I am totally here for this continued parade of Sarah getting her flowers.
I really hope she gets her individual gold (or two!) in free next year, even though it will likely come at the expense of an Australian.
My English vocabulary is too poor to express my admiration of Sarah Sjostrom’s unique swimming talent. But what amazes me most about her is her versatility. And that isn’t the versatility related to the ability of moving in the water different ways. It is all artificial – I’m surprised that we still don’t have the competition at moving in the water backwards. But Sarah posses the extremely rare biological versatility of being exceptionally strong from the very short sprint to the middle distances. Were there any similar talents in history especially at the time of strong specialization? Not 50 or so years ago when competition was in embryonic stage of development and all what was needed from swimmer was an… Read more »
McKeown is pretty similar- Sjostrom ranks 1/1/8 all time in the 50/100/200 free, while McKeown ranks 7/1/1 in the backstrokes. King also somewhat close with 2/1/8. Efimova is at 4/3/4, Emma McKeon is at 2/2/12, Regan Smith is at 14/2/2, Zhang Yufei is at 11/3/3, Masse is at 8/3/8, and Murphy is at 9/2/7. That should round out the list of swimmers whose all time rankings in the 50/100/200 of a stroke add up to less than 20.
The overall scores are McKeown: 9, Sjostrom: 10, King: 11, Efimova: 11, McKeon: 16, Zhang Yufei: 17, Regan Smith: 18, Murphy: 18, Masse: 19
Out of the 9 people, Murphy is the only male. Ofc Sjostrom and McKeon are especially good here… Read more »
Man you’re user name should be stat man. Always so impressed with the numbers and statistics that you present in your comments.
Keep it going my friend!
Lmao its the most interesting thing to do at work without it being too obvious that I’m not working
I think that having only one male in your statistics just proves the fact that with the development of competition the specialization becomes even more required. A lot of male swimmers who are good 50m sprinters are nobody at 100m competition. To find the swimmer who can show world class results in 50-100-200 range is practically impossible. The competition in breast and back strokes in female swimming doesn’t come even close in comparison with what we have in freestyle. And that makes Sjostrom’s case completely different from other talented female swimmers in the list you provided.
But I agree that that is an interesting data to think about. Thanks.
Ummmm, Emma Mckeon swims just about all the same events as Sarah.
While Sarah has better times, its Emma with the golds. They are the only 2 swimmers that has won Olympic medals in the 50/100/200.
Emma 2 golds & a Bronze
Sarah 2 silvers and a Bronze.
So safe to say Emma tops Sarah in the freestyles.
Let’s not forget the times the Sjostrom swam 5 months removed from breaking her elbow. She was 6 tenths from gold in the 100free and a quarter of a second in the 50.
That was a tough break (no pun intended) for Sarah Sjostrom.
The broken elbow required surgery with rods and plate(s)
Nope not forgotten.
Also remember Sarah’s best swim was in a relay start in 2017 in which Sweden came 5th low pressure.
Emma’s best time only bettered by the above time was in the Olympic final in Tokyo.
The relay was Day 1 and the individual final was Day 6, which could have an impact too
Especially with McKeons workload.
How many individual gold medals has Emma McKeon won at the World Aquatics Championships?
World Aquatics Championships
Individual Gold Medals (women)
Ledecky – 14
Sjostrom – 10
Hosszu – 9
Pellegrini – 6
Yefimova – 6
Stockbauer – 5
de Bruijn – 5
King – 5
How many swimmer of the meet awards (female) has Emma McKeon won at the World Aquatics Championships?
The discussion here is freestyle sprints between Sjostrom & McKeon!!!!
Australians only really care about the Olympics… the WC are really a B event to us… left to Sarah, Katinka and the Americans.
What do Thorpe, Perkins etc think of this?
Reading the comments during the World’s even SC Worlds they seem to disagree, so if it is a B meet, why bother to host them?
It’s sour grapes.
You bragged that Australia had not won an individual GOLD medal since 2008 on the women’s side.
Yet in Tokyo we won the 50-100-200-400 free gold, plus silver in the 800 free.
So who has the sour grapes?
A year later, USA won the W 400 FR, W 800 FR, W 1500 FR at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships.
A year later, USA won 9 gold, 4 silver, 9 bronze at 2022 World Aquatics Championships on the women’s side alone.
The USA is a superpower in women’s swimming. They are expected to win Golds every World Championship or Olympics.
Australia had not won a individual gold in for 2 Olympics,which you gloated about. In Tokyo won the 50, 100, 200 & 400 Olympic gold. Not mention 4x 100Free & 4X100 Med, plus 100 & 200 backstroke events, geez must’ve hurt.
Don’t bother to show up at the World Aquatics Championships.
Talk about cherry picking the data.
You conveniently forgot to compare the performances at the World Aquatics Championships.
Which one, the one that Emma Mckeon, Titmus & even McKeown (winners of 6 Olympic golds) didn’t swim (Mckeown’s case only swam in 1 event).
Where we still managed to win 3 gold, 6 silvers & 2 bronze, plus a 1 gold & silver in the mix.
If Ledecky, Huske & Smith didn’t swim at WC, how many would US have won?
You always talk such garbage about women’s swimming not having competition. It’s just false.
Oh that’s so interesting. Kaylee is exactly 0.10 off 2nd fastest in the 50. It wouldn’t surprise me if she improves her PB this year given how her sprinting has been going. She’s only swam it once so far and it’s the leading time of the year.
I think that lives of the swimmers like Titmus or McIntosh is easier than in Sjostrom’s case. They know that they have no chances in real sprint at 100m not even mentioning 50m. So they can horn their talent in pretty narrow range of events with no special biological specifics (different type of muscles, respiratory system, etc). Sarah’s case is different. If she is so good in fifth it’s tough to push herself training hard for 200. I am sure that should she swim 200 only she would have world record there as well.
She did have the SCM world record in the 200 Free for a couple of years.
Sarah Sjostrom did swim the W 200 FR and lost to Katie Ledecky at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
You’re comparing apples to oranges. Sjostrom’s best events are the 50 FL, 50 FR, 100 FL, 100 FR, with the fifth best event the 200 FR.
Her versatility is indeed amazing but she isn’t necessarily as outlier. KD is possibly on her way to dominance in 50 free, 100 fly, 200 IM, and both breaststrokes (but especially 200). I can’t think of any swimmer ever that was good at such a random assortment of events. Who ever heard of someone being good at 50 free and 200 breast?? Can you imagine Flo doing a 200 breast? or Schoenmaker doing a 50 free (and 100 fly)?? KD has versatility not only in distances but strokes as well. Oh, and she can do it in two totally different pool formats, despite what the haters think.
You say this like Tracy Caulkins didn’t exist. American records: 100/500 free, 100/200 breast, 200 fly, 200 back, 200/400 IM. World records: 200 fly, 200/400 IM. She qualified to swim five individual events at the 1980 Olympics.
With all that said, Sjostrom is still the only female to ever win five individual medals in a single long course Worlds (2019 Gwangju).
Shane Gould won five individual medals at the 1972 Olympics, where there were only 12 individual events compared to 17 individual events in 2019.
Define “on her way to dominance”. KD is nowhere near medal territory for most of those events. If you’re talking about A cuts, then McKeown has the Fukuoka A cut in 200 free, 50 back, 100 back, 200 back, 100 breast, 200 breast, 200IM and 400IM, and is 0.04 off in the 100 free and 0.10 off in the 400 free.
“KD is nowhere near medal territory for most of those events.”
200 IM – has a medal
200 breast – has a medal
50 free – PB of 24.40, 24.38 medaled last year
100 fly – PB of 56.56, 56.41 medaled last year
100 breast – PB of 1:07.07, 1:06.02 medaled last year (hasn’t swum it at a Trials meet).
So I count 4/5 where she’s “somewhere near medal territory,” which I would consider “most of those events.” I agree that she’s got a long way to go for dominance in any of those races, but “nowhere near medal territory” isn’t accurate either.
Last year Worlds were missing many swimmers which affected times across many events.
Compared to Tokyo, she is in the 200 breast/IM top3-5 rankings, but she is nowhere near medal territory in the 50free, 100 fly, 100 breast.
You can dominate people in short course relying on walls and underwaters in multiple events, but once you go to long course reality hits you.
I seriously doubt Kate Douglass could beat Lydia “coming on like a freight train in 2023” Jacoby and Lilly King in the W 50 BR & W 100 BR at the 2023 Phillips 66 National Championships. As a matter of fact, Kaitlyn Dobler has a faster personal best time than Kate Douglass in the W 100 BR.
Kate Douglass has yet to beat Claire Curzan and Torri Huske in the W 100 FL two years running for USA Swimming at the domestic trials (2021, 2022).
Kate Douglass has yet to qualify in the W 50 FR two years running for USA Swimming at the domestic trials (2021, 2022). It’s not a given that Kate Douglass will qualify in the W… Read more »
Last year’s Worlds were one of the weakest in recent memory, so I suppose it depends if you define “medal territory” as “compared to an extremely weak worlds last year which clearly doesn’t represent the current competition” or “chances of winning a medal moving forward”. I prefer the latter.
200 breast – Yes, I was counting this as medal territory.
200IM – Yes, I was also counting this as medal territory. Although, this was a weak event in Tokyo that has exploded since. Her PB would not have won a medal at the Olympics since 2008, and I doubt her current PB will ever win a medal again.
100 Fly – PB would have been 7th in Tokyo, 0.8 off… Read more »
Simone Manuel needed to post a 23.97 in the W 50 FR at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships just to win the bronze medal. Kate Douglass is nowhere near that level.
You reside in a world of ”What if.” Best to live in a world of ”What is.”
Sarah Sjostrom swam the W 200 FR at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships. Needless to say, Sarah Sjostrom faced the legend in the W 200 FR.
Her longevity blows my mind. Came on at the international scene at 14 and at 29 still going strong. If her Olympic tally was greater she would be with Ledecky in the GOAT conversation.
Sometimes you need some luck as well and sometimes it seems like that has gone against Sarah. I was told that in 2012 Sarah was fairly sick about 3-4 weeks before the Olympics (do not have this in writing) so her season bests came in March/April which ended up giving her end of year World Rankings of 3rd in the 100 Free / 200 Free and 2nd in the 100 Fly.
In 2021 she had the elbow injury.
But even in 2016, as Braden mentions she ‘under performed’ (incredible that an individual gold and push the GOAT to the wire in another event is considered underperforming, but such is her talent). But missing the 50 final is a bit of a stain.
As others have mentioned her versatility may well be a curse in some ways – she has so many opportunities and so much talent to realise them that she loses that .1% and has her colours lowered by someone who is forced to specialise in 1 single event.
I agree, but if she could have skipped the prelims of the 4×100 FR, 4×200 FR, and prelims of the 4×100 MR do you think her outcome could have been different?
Looking at her relay splits it looks like she went all out or close to it in both of the 4×100 prelim relays, but she held back a little in the 4×200 (Sweden qualified 8th with 0.7 to spare).
Don’t assume what sets off my cockles.
A delightful comment out of context.
No, it’s in the article.
I know, but it is delightful out of context.