2021 Swammy Awards: European Male Swimmer Of The Year, Evgeny Rylov

To see all of our 2021 Swammy Awards, click here.


The European men had a relatively dominant showing at the Tokyo 2020 Games, winning 22 out of 42 individual medals at the meet. At least one European man stood on every podium at the Games except for in the 400 freestyle and 400 IM. In many events, Europeans won 2/3 of available medals, and in the men’s 100 breaststroke Europe swept the podium as Adam Peaty, Arno Kamminga, and Nicolo Martinenghi went 1-2-3.

It was a different sweep, however, that made the case for this year’s European Male Swimmer of the Year as Evgeny Rylov took gold in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes in Tokyo. Rylov was entered in Tokyo as the top seed in both events but was not the heavy favorite to win considering that reigning champion Ryan Murphy had not yet swum to his full potential prior to Tokyo. Rylov would have to hold off Murphy, along with a crowded field of backstrokers including Kliment Kolesnikov, Luke Greenbank, Xu Jiayu, Hunter Armstrong, Mitch Larkin, and others.

In the 100 backstroke, both Rylov and Murphy were relatively slow in the first round. They both swam a 53.22 during prelims, which tied them for 7th overall. Murphy jumped to 1st place in the semi-finals with a 52.24, while Rylov stayed out of the top 3 in a 52.91 for 5th.

When it came down to the final, however, Rylov unleashed an electrifying swim of 51.98 to dip under 52 seconds for the first time, break the European record, and win Olympic gold. Rylov beat fellow Russian and silver medalist Kliment Kolesnikov by just 0.02 seconds and downed Camille Lacourt‘s former European record of 52.12 from 2010. Rylov had become the 4th fastest man in the history of the event behind Murphy (51.85), Xu Jiayu (51.86), and Aaron Piersol (51.94).

The day after winning his first-ever Olympic medal, Rylov got to work again in the men’s 200 backstroke prelims. With an event win in the bag, Rylov seemed a little less reserved in the 200 heats and swam a 1:56.02 for 2nd overall in round 1, but trailed Luke Greenbank‘s 1:54.63 but roughly a second and a half.

Rylov got down to a 1:54 during the semi-final, leading the pack with a 1:54.45, while Greenbank was a 1:54.98 and Murphy a 1:55.38 for 3rd heading into the final. Just as he did in the 100, Rylov got to the wall first in the 200 backstroke final, winning Olympic gold in Olympic record time of 1:53.27.

Notably, that swim by Rylov in the Olympic final was actually his second-fastest swim of the year in that event. He had swum a 1:53.23 European record in the event a few months earlier at the Russian Championships.

So in 2021, Rylov won Olympic gold in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, defeating the reigning champion in both and world record holder in the 100 (Ryan Murphy), he set a new European record in both events and set an Olympic record in the 200. No other European men were quite as dominant this year in more than one event.

In addition to his individual events in Tokyo, Rylov also threw down some solid relay swims and wound up with a third Olympic medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay. He contributed a 1:45.26 split for the Russian Olympic Committee, which helped the team finish second overall with a 7:01.81 to Great Britain’s 6:458.58 for gold.

After the Olympic Games, Rylov continued racing at the top level by competing for Energy Standard in the International Swimming League. Rylov was a key member of Energy Standard’s eventual season 3 victory. He won the 100 backstroke 3 times and the 200 backstroke twice for his team, including a double victory in the event at the 2021 ISL final. Rylov finished 8th overall in MVP points at the final match of the season and was the 13th-highest points scorer season-wide.


  • Tom Dean (GBR): Tom Dean entered 2021 with a PB of 1:46.03 in the long course 200 freestyle; a time that would have 26th overall at the Olympic Games. He wasted no time in Tokyo, however, rocketing to a 1:45.24 heats swim in the event, followed by a 1:45.34 in the semi-finals. Ultimately, Dean swam his way to Olympic gold in the event with a 1:44.22 British record. He became the fastest man in British history event and had won his first-ever major international medal in the form of Olympic gold. Dean became a two-time Olympic medalist in Tokyo by swimming the leading leg of the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay. He opened with a 1:45.72 and was followed by James Guy, Matt Richards, and Duncan Scott, who together produced a 6:58.58 European record for gold.
  • Kristof Milak (HUN): For the two years following his world record-breaking 200 butterfly at the 2019 World Championships, Kristof Milak was the standout favorite to win Olympic gold in the 200 butterfly. He pulled off the feat in Tokyo by swimming a 1:51.25, which trailed his WR, but got him Olympic gold by more than 2 seconds. The swim also marked a new Olympic record in the event, improving upon Michael Phelps’ 1:52.03. Milak also raced to a silver medal in the 100 butterfly in Tokyo and gave world record-breaker Caeleb Dressel a run for his money. Milak swam a 49.68 European record in the final, which trailed Dressel’s winning 49.45 by only 0.23 seconds.
  • While Kliment Kolesnikov is the only man on this list who didn’t win Olympic gold in 2021, he had a number of swims in 2021 that make him worthy of a mention. In Tokyo, he finished second overall in the 100 backstroke with a 52.00, which was only 0.02 seconds slower than victor Evgeny Rylov and made him the 5th-fastest man in history. Kolesnikov also picked up a bronze medal in the 100 freestyle when he swam a 47.44 to join Caeleb Dressel (47.02) and Kyle Chalmers (47.44) on the podium. Kolesnikov’s most notable 100 freestyle, however, was during the semi-finals where he posted a field-leading 47.11. That swim was a European record and made him the 9th fastest man in history. Prior to his Olympic performance, Kolesnikov delivered a world record-breaking swim of 23.80 in the 50 backstroke at the 2021 European Championships. That swim was the second time he had broken the world record in 2 days, following a 23.93 the day before. Kolesnikov remains the only man to ever break 24 seconds in the long course 50 backstroke.


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There's no doubt that he's tightening up
1 year ago

I personally would have gone for Milak. I know Rylov has two golds vs Milak’s one gold/one silver, but Rylov isn’t going up against a swimmer of the calibre of Dressel (all due respect to Kolesnikov, Murphy, Xu et al). It’s like marking down Cseh/Lochte because they couldn’t beat Phelps.

Milak 49.68/1:51.2 is in my opinion more impressive than 51.98/1:53.2. Milak’s times put him as the #2 and #1 performers in history; Rylov #4 and #5. Only three people have come within half a second of Milak’s silver-medal winning 49.68 (Dressel, supersuited Phelps and Cavic). Fourteen have come within half a second of Rylov’s gold-medal winning 51.98 (Hunter Armstrong just squeezing in with 52.48).

Yes I know Milak’s 200… Read more »

Sam B

Milak was disappointed because he was off his World Record, we found out why…. late to the meet, 15 min to prepare, rushed to the block, it probably maybe accounted for a slower time

Mr Piano
1 year ago

I woulda given it to Milak tbh.

1 year ago

Rylov a very deserving winner, absolutely the right choice, anybody else winning would have been an injustice imo.

Unlike other commenters, I feel an argument could be made for Duncan Scott being a bigger omission than Peaty. I know he didn’t win an individual gold, but I think he was a real standout this year, from Euros, through Olympics and in to the ISL season. Such a shame he was sick during Worlds.

Small catch on Tom Dean – He swam 1.46.0 in March 2020, just before lockdown. That was his PB entering 2021.

Last edited 1 year ago by Dee
Reply to  Dee
1 year ago

We had a big discussion among 6 guys for HMs: Wellbrock, Peaty, Milak, Scott, Dean, and Kolesnikov.

With a focus on pool swimming, that made Wellbrock the first guy out, even with that SCM WR.

The other 5, we went in circles a lot. We really wanted to keep it to 3 honorable mentions (though I know the readers often want us to just give out as many honorable mentions as there is room on the page).

We couldn’t find any reason to rank Peaty over Milak among those 5. Milak’s second result at the Olympics was better.

In fact, we too had Scott ahead of Peaty – because of what he did in the ISL, his bigger relay contribution,… Read more »

Reply to  Dee
1 year ago

British Swim Fans be like:

Winner: Adam Peaty
HM: Duncan Scott
HM: Tom Dean
HM: James Guy
HM: Adam Peaty Again

Reply to  Swerver
1 year ago

Haha this British swim fan be like

Winner: Rylov
HM: Milak
HM: Scott
HM: Kolesnikov

Feels wrong leaving out Peaty and Kamminga, but I’m sure they’ll win hunk of the year or something like that in their respective countries.

Reply to  Dee
1 year ago

I felt bad for Duncan Scott’s silver in the 200 free at Olympics because THAT was his moment and his career deserved it, but we have to admit that Dean showed a better way to face that Olympic final (Scott was too conservative in the first half). PS I’ve just read Keith’s explanation and I continue to not understand how weighting Dean’s gold in the 800 free relay (considering also Dean’s performance in that relay) better than Peaty’s gold in the mixed relay + silver in the medley relay. The lone explanation is considering the “historical” 800 free relay far more important that the new mixed medley relay: about that I agree .., but there’s also Peaty’s silver in the… Read more »

The condors were robbed
1 year ago

Cat mask > All

1 year ago

Another European male swimmer deserves a mention, i.e. Florian Wellbrock. Yes, “only” a bronze medal in the 1500 free, but gold in the 10 km OW and a huge gold and WR in 1500 free at recent SC Worlds. All of this with a beautiful stroke (also in OW).

1 year ago

Obviously Rylov deserves it. About honorable mentions, I already wrote on Peaty who is a pivotal member of GB medley relays. Another European breaststroker deserves at least a mention on this section, i.e. Arno Kamming who, around so much specialization, is highly competitive both on 100 and 200 LCM distances, and he won two silver at Tokyo.

1 year ago

Gotta respect the drip.

A well-earned honor obviously, but I just can’t get over how iconic his mask is.

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
1 year ago

Rylov’s probably one of the most underrated swimmers in the past few years. He has been winning medals at EVERY Olympics and LC Worlds since 2015, including several golds. Great consistency, and very impressive range as well – excels in all distances of backstrokes and has some really decent freestyle splits from SC 50 free to LC 200 free.


Yes. He had a 20.22 50 free split at 2018 short course world championships (which is among top 10 all time), a 47 flat 100 free split in long course at 2019 world championships, and a 1:45.2 200 free split at the Olympics. I can’t think of many freestyle specialists who can do all of these. Maybe Dressel and Chalmers.