2016 Swammy Awards: Top 10 Swims of the Year

To see all of our 2016 Swammy Awards presented by TYR, click here


The swimming world saw several World Records, NCAA Records, and National Records fall throughout 2016. Read on to relive the top 10 swims of the year as we get ready for more fast swimming in 2017.

Katinka Hosszu (Photo: Simone Castrovillari)


Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu wasted no time redeeming herself after missing the 400 IM podium by one place in 2012. The 4 years she spent forging herself into the iron lady put her above and beyond the competition at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Hosszu blasted her way into the lead and never looked back in the 400 IM final, securing the gold as her first ever Olympic medal. Her winning time of 4:26.36 obliterated the previous World Record set by Ye Shiwen in 2012. Although Hosszu’s freestyle leg was 4 second shy of Shiwen’s infamous freestyle split, she still cleared the record by an extraordinary margin of 2 full seconds.


Distance phenom Katie Ledecky has been unstoppable in the distance races over the last few years. That became even more apparent in the 800 free final at the Rio Olympics, where she won her 2nd straight Olympic gold in the event. In a field full of the best swimmers in the world, no one was a match for Ledecky. She led the race from start to finish, touching the wall with a winning margin of 11 seconds. She also shattered her own World Record by 2 seconds, lowering the mark to an incredible 8:04.79.


Great Britain’s Adam Peaty absolutely blew away the field in the men’s 100 breast at the Rio Olympics. It’s not that often you see a swimmer win a 100 meter event by over a second, but Peaty’s margin of victory over 2012 Olympic champ Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA) was an astonishing 1.5 seconds. He shattered his own World Record in the event, lowering the mark to a 57.13. Peaty is the only swimmer in history to clock a sub-58 in the 100 breast, and he’s now accomplished the feat 4 times, 3 of which were done in Rio.

Men’s 100 fly medalists (Photo: Simone Castrovillari)


The men’s 100 fly final in Rio was historic for a handful of reasons, but it was especially significant for Singapore. The nation got its first-ever Olympic gold medal in any sport this summer courtesy of Joseph Schooling in that race. In the first Olympic final of his career, Schooling was a man on a mission, taking on a stacked field that included Olympic medalists and World Champions. All eyes in Singapore watched as Schooling blew away the field, winning in 50.39 to clock the fastest time ever done in textile.

Behind him, we saw a 3-way tie for silver between Olympic veterans Michael Phelps (USA), Chad Le Clos (RSA), and Laszlo Cseh (HUN), who have been rivals in the butterfly races for several years. All 3 swimmers touched in 51.14, marking the first 3-way tie in Olympic swimming history.


Swimming legend Michael Phelps came home from the Rio Olympics with several medals, but his 200 IM gold marked yet another historic career milestone. When he touched the wall first in that race, Phelps won a record-setting 4th straight Olympic title in the event. Although breaststroke isn’t known as his strong suit, Phelps really pulled away from the field on the breast leg before sealing the deal on the freestyle. His winning time of 1:54.66 was within tenths of his personal best time and Olympic Record, and not too far off Ryan Lochte‘s 1:54.00 World Record from 2011.


Manuel & Oleksiak (photo: Simone Castrovillari)

Heaing into Rio, Australia’s Cate Campbell, who set the World Record in the leadup to the Games, was the favorite to win Olympic gold. When the time came for the Olympic final, however, 2 swimmers pulled off a major upset. Team USA’s Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak were part of a historic tie for gold, as both touched in 52.70 after tearing through the 2nd 50 to outswim Campbell and bronze medalist Sarah Sjostrom (SWE).

Manuel broke the American Record, clearing Amanda Weir‘s previous record of 53.02 from the supersuit era and ending the medal drought in the women’s sprints for Team USA. With that, she became the first American woman to swim sub-53 seconds and the first black woman to win Olympic gold individually in swimming. Co-champion Oleksiak set a new Junior World Record and Canadian National Record. With the gold medal, she became the most decorated Canadian swimmer at any summer Olympics at just 16 years of age, winning her 4th medal of the Games. It also marked the first swimming Olympic gold medal for Canada since Mark Tewksbury took gold in 1992.


Most eyes were on Australia’s Cameron McEvoy as a title contender in the Olympic 100 free final after McEvoy ripped an outstanding 47.04 earlier in the year. It was his young teammate Kyle Chalmers, however, who earned the spotlight in Rio. Despite flipping 7th at the 50, 18-year-old Chalmers shocked the world when he thundered home in a 24.44 to win gold for Australia. In doing so, he took down not only McEvoy, but also 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian (USA), who would up with bronze.


USA medley relay (Photo: Simone Castrovillari)

Since 2012, a handful of men had come close to clearing the 52 second barrier and breaking backstroke legend Aaron Peirsol‘s World Record. In the men’s 100 back final, Team USA’s Ryan Murphy became the first man to post a 51 second swim in textile, but the World Record still eluded him. As he stepped up to the plate for the 400 medley relay, he had one final shot at that record in Rio. Murphy certainly took advantage of that opportunity, blasting a 51.85 to secure the World Record and give Team USA an early lead en route to relay gold.


A month ahead of the Rio Olympics, Australian sprint star Cate Campbell downed the World Record in the 100 free at the 2016 Australia Grand Prix. After blazing to a 24.89 on the opening 50, she brought it home with a 27.17 to hit the wall in 52.06. That overtook the previous World Record by a hundredth, as it formerly stood at a 52.07 done by Britta Steffen in the 2009 “supersuit” era.


Caeleb Dressel(Photo: Tim Binning)

Florida sophomore Caeleb Dressel was a monster in the sprints at the 2016 NCAA Championships. In a single day, he rewrote the record books with 4 of the top 5 fastest 50 freestyles ever after leading off the Gators’ 200 free relay and swimming the individual 50 free. The 50 free final was the most significant, however, as he broke the NCAA, American, and U.S. Open Records with an incredible 18.20. He opened with an 8.70 to the feet on the first 25, and brought it back with a 9.50 on the 2nd 25. That clipped his previous record of 18.23 done at the 2016 SEC Championships. It’s not often you see someone truly dominate in the 50 free, but Dressel’s winning margin in that race was over 6 tenths of a second ahead of anyone else.

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Franklin Guill
7 years ago

I am not so sure that SWIM SWAM has this list correct. I think it is strange that Kyle Chalmers was placed in this list for winning the men’s 100 free but the 36 year old swimmer who one the 50 free and gold medal in the 2000 Olympics then turned around and won it again 16 years later in RIO is not on the list. Let’s see if Chalmers wins gold in 2032. BTW I did not mention the 50 free winner here since SWIM SWAM did not mention his name either.

7 years ago

Adam peaty GBAM. 57.13. The male 100 meters breaststroke WR is like a second faster than the female 100 meters backstroke WR. Explain that. And the backstroke is the faster stroke. I would like to see Adam peaty on breaststroke vs the best 100 meter ladies on backstroke ( hosszu, seebohm) in a race. That would be fun.

7 years ago

Sorry swimswam staff, you got it wrong! Adam Peaty had the swim of the Olympics, the swim of the year! Not even close. He had the two best swims of the Olympics…individual 100 and relay split. IMO he should have been swimmer of the year. Phelps didn’t even do a best time and wasn’t the fast split on any of the relays.

7 years ago

Congrats to Swimswan crew (authors of the best Swimming Site of 2016 in my personal ranking) for these Swammy Awards.
Particularly this one: every swimming fan has his own views, thoughts, passions about the best races of 2016, so a lot of comments to solidify the fact that Swimswam is the best Swimming Site of the 2016…

7 years ago

IMHO Peaty over all. His 57.13 will be enough to win the gold even in 2024/8 Olympics.
In the top ten I wuold put the 14.34 by Paltrinieri in European Championship in 1500 free.

M Palota
7 years ago

Tremendous swims all and it was a glorious year for the sport.

The jaw dropper for me, though, was Adam Peaty’s split on the 4×100 medley relay. 56.35! Off the chain!

Honestly, the only relay split more impressive – to me, anyway – was Lezak’s 100 free split from 2008.

Reply to  M Palota
7 years ago

I agree that Peaty’s relay split was the most impressive, particularly when you look at the numbers. Using his 57.13 WR.

Him swimming 57.13 is 1.33s faster than the previous WR holder, and still 2nd fastest of all time. Now, swimming is not linear, but if you try that with other WRs, presuming somebody exploded out of the woodwork in the next few years.

100fr – 46.91s – 1.33s = 45.58s
100fl – 49.82s – 1.33s = 48.49s
100bk – 51.94s – 1.33s = 50.61s (I am not forgetting Murphy, just using the previous WR)

Now, I believe breaststroke was having a bit of a lull in 2009, but this just gives a vague idea of just how… Read more »

Reply to  Dee
7 years ago

Yes, Peaty is on his own breaststroke planet and this post give him the right credit.
I call him “the letal weapon for medley relay” and it will be interesting to verify if Great Britain, using him him in the breaststroke leg and Duncan Scott in the free leg, will be successful to overcome the hystorical Usa leadership in the men medley relay.

Reply to  nuotofan
7 years ago

I doubt that the UK will once beat the Usa Medley relay Team …….even with M.Phelps retired .

Attila the Hunt
Reply to  M Palota
7 years ago

IMO, Peaty’s 56.59 is more impressive than Lezak’s 46.06, for a number of reasons.
1. Yes, Lezak’s number seems impressive, but it’s not that impressive when you think that in 2001 Fukuoka Pieter VD Hoogenband already split 47.02 in textile legskin, while Lezak in 2008 was in rubber bodysuit.
2. Second fastest free relay split is Cielo’s and Bernard’s 46.26 at 2009 Rome, so the difference between Lezak’s and second fastest split is only 0.2 seconds. Second fastest breast split is Peaty’s own 57.74 from 2015 Kazan, and third fastest is Rickard’s 57.80 in rubber bodysuit in 2009 Rome, so the difference is 1.15 seconds.
3. Lezak swam drafting off Bernard’s who made amateurish mistake by swimming… Read more »

Reply to  M Palota
7 years ago

Peaty was the most impressive by far. And the FINA points comparison make that an objective statement. (Peaty 1071, Ledecky 1038, Hosszu 1024).

Hosszu had the best overall medal haul from Rio, but not the best swim.

7 years ago

Peaty 56.59 relay split? -2.00s faster than any other swimmer in the race. 1.87s faster than any other man has swum (flat start) before.

Akin to…
47.95 butterfly split
45.07 freestyle split

If we include relay swims – I’d call that the swim of the year.

If not, I’d go:

1. Peaty 100br WR
2. Hosszu 400im WR
3. Ledecky 400fr WR
4. Murphy 100bk WR
5. Paltrinieri 1500fr ER (perhaps bias, because I saw it first hand, but it was pure brilliance(

masters swimmer
7 years ago

Personally, I’d rank Joseph Schooling’s 100 fly from Rio a notch or two higher. Four things:
1. Basically a new WR because it was the fastest ever Textile swim. I see him as the new WR holder in this event.
2. Largest margin either ever or in a very long time to win this event.
3. It broke one of the longest standing records in this event: Ian Crocker’s magical 2005 WR at World’s in Montreal. That was time was definitely the “holy grail” in this event. It stood for 11 years. If you go back to the video of nationals in Summer of 2015 after Phelps set the world leading time, he even mentioned Crocker’s swim.… Read more »

Lane Four
Reply to  masters swimmer
7 years ago

I loved your analysis and don’t feel it needs someone else’s. You said it all beautifully.

Reply to  masters swimmer
7 years ago

Just to debate a little bit and, anyway, giving the right credit to Joe Schooling, a great swimmer.

1) The fastest ever textile swim yes, but not a mind-blogging time. A time within the reach of both Phelps and LeClos 2015 performances. I remind that Phelps swam 50.45 in San Antonio with a very slow RT at the start (.79) and arriving long at the turn.

2) Largest margin ever, but more because of rivals underpar performances.
Phelps was at his 11th races, Le Clos at his 9th, Cseh at his 6th, and all of them (particularly Cseh) certainly not in the shape of the life..

3) I think that Phelps, before the forementioned race of Nats2015, could have… Read more »

About Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh

Lauren Neidigh is a former NCAA swimmer at the University of Arizona (2013-2015) and the University of Florida (2011-2013). While her college swimming career left a bit to be desired, her Snapchat chin selfies and hot takes on Twitter do not disappoint. She's also a high school graduate of The …

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