The 2022 calendar year has been full of incredible performances in the pool worldwide. Thanks to the many competitions that have taken place over the last 12 months, several records were broken and we were treated to a ton of swims that will live on in the sport’s history forever.
In this special ranking, SwimSwam retraces some of the most exciting battles against the clock from the past year.
Note that these performances aren’t solely looked at through an objective lens. We’ve taken into account the significance of each swim in terms of time and all-time ranking, but are also acknowledging the magnitude they had in the moment and the emotion elicited.
- Ruta Meilutyte‘s world record of 28.37 in the women’s 50 breast at the Short Course World Championships. (Video)
- Hunter Armstrong‘s world record of 23.71 in the men’s 50 back at the U.S. International Team Trials. (Video)
- Zac Stubblety-Cook‘s world record of 2:05.95 in the men’s 200 breast (LCM) at the Australian Championships. (Video)
- The Australian women’s world record of 7:39.29 in the 800 freestyle relay at the Commonwealth Games. (Video)
- Katie Ledecky‘s gold medal-winning effort in the women’s 800 free at the World Championships, clocking 8:08.04 to win her fifth straight title in the event, the first to ever do so, while also putting up her fastest swim since 2018.
- 16-year-old Summer McIntosh swimming the fourth-fastest women’s 400 IM time in history at the U.S. Open in 4:28.61, one of many outstanding performances in 2022 from the Canadian sensation. (Video)
- Luca Urlando‘s NCAA, American and U.S. Open record of 43.35 in the men’s 100 backstroke (SCY) at the NCAA Championships. (Video)
10. Kate Douglass (USA), Women’s 200 Breaststroke (SCY) – 2:01.87 – 2022 Tennessee Invite
It was one thing for Kate Douglass to take down Lilly King‘s NCAA, American and U.S. Open Record in the women’s 200 breaststroke (SCY) at the NCAA Championships in March, but the University of Virginia senior went one better by re-lowering the mark at the mid-season Tennessee Invitational in November. Douglass, who clocked 2:02.19 in March to break King’s previous record of 2:02.60 set in 2018, dropped a mind-boggling 2:01.87 in Knoxville, making her the fastest swimmer in history by seven-tenths and the first sub-2:02. In an event that’s typically reserved for breaststroke specialists, Douglass is a true all-arounder and stud sprinter, and has an otherworldly range that makes this performance truly hard to believe and one of the year’s best.
9. Maggie MacNeil (CAN), Women’s 100 Butterfly (SCM) – 54.05 – 2022 Short Course World Championships
Over the past three years, there isn’t much Maggie MacNeil hasn’t accomplished in the women’s 100 butterfly. At one point she simultaneously held the Olympic, LC World, SC World and NCAA titles in the event, remains the fastest swimmer ever in short course yards, and this year, she added the Commonwealth Games title to her resume. But the one thing that eluded her was the world record, either in LC or SC, but she ticked off that box with authority at the Short Course World Championships to close out the year. MacNeil swam to a time of 54.05 in the final, obliterating the world record of 54.59 set by Kelsi Dahlia last year by more than half a second while winning gold by seven-tenths over American Torri Huske (54.75). MacNeil made what initially looked to be a tight race a lopsided affair as she stormed home with a blazing back-half of 28.27, putting her incredible underwater work on full display.
8. Thomas Heilman (USA), Boys’ 100 Butterfly (SCY) – 44.67 – 2022 Winter Junior Championships – East
Courtesy: USA Swimming
It’s a rarity to see a swimmer on the younger side of an age group set a National Age Group (NAG) record. For example, it’s not often we’ll see a 15-year-old lower a NAG record in the 15-16 age group—that’s usually reserved for the 16-year-olds. What do we then make of Thomas Heilman, who at 15, broke not only the 15-16 NAG record in the boys’ 100 butterfly, but also went under the 17-18 record. Heilman blasted his way to a time of 44.67 in the 100 fly at the Winter Junior Championships – East in Greensboro, N.C., smashing the NAG record of 45.62 held by Luca Urlando while also dipping under the 17-18 mark of 44.75 set by Aiden Hayes earlier in the year. Heilman turned 15 in February, and he’s already faster than any swimmer in U.S. history aged 18 and under in the event. The absurdity of that makes this swim stand up with some of the best we’ve seen around the world this year.
7. Leon Marchand (FRA), Men’s 400 IM (LCM) – 4:04.28 – 2022 World Championships
At the Duna Arena in Budapest, a lion made its world stage debut in style. Leon Marchand, 20, shocked everyone during the first night of finals at the World Aquatics Championships. With a time of 4:04.28, Marchand swam to a new European Record and the second-fastest performance in the history of the men’s 400 IM, behind only Michael Phelps (4:03.84), who perhaps from his sofa watched the last 50 meters of the French phenomenon with his fingers crossed. Although he did not break the world record, this performance marked the first time someone broke 4:05 in a decade. The most impressive leg of his race was the breaststroke where he swam 1:07.28.
6. Thomas Ceccon (ITA), Men’s 100 Backstroke (LCM) – 51.60 – 2022 World Championships
The 100 backstroke has changed world record holder in both short course and long course this season. Another performance that stunned everyone was that of a backstroker with a mustache but was not Coleman Stewart. Continuing the tradition of the winning mustache Thomas Ceccon won the final of the 100 backstroke at the World Championships in Budapest 2022 showing all his talent by improving the WR by swimming 2 lanes away from the previous record holder, Ryan Murphy.
5. David Popovici (ROU), Men’s 200 Freestyle (LCM) – 1:42.97 – 2022 European Championships
No, David Popovici didn’t swim to a new world record in 200 freestyle. But for the first time in a very long time, he proved to everyone that sooner or later that this vaunted record will be broken. Popovici joined the sub-1:43 club, a very exclusive group that only includes three names: Paul Biedermann, Michael Phelps, and, since mid-August, David Popovici. Popovici’s time of 1:42.97 at the European Championships marked the first swim under 1:43 in 13 years and the first-ever in a textile suit.
4. Ariarne Titmus (AUS), Women’s 400 Freestyle (LCM) – 3:56.40 – 2022 Australian Championships
In long course we had only one individual WR from the women’s field in 2022. Australian superstar Ariarne Titmus swam to a time of 3:56.40 in the 400 freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships in June, becoming the first swimmer to break one of Katie Ledecky’s world records. The time of the Australian Olympic champion was 0.06 seconds faster than Ledecky’s previous mark of 3:56.46. Ledecky set her former world record six years ago at the 2016 Olympic Games, with Titmus having come close to that standard en route to beating the American head-to-head at the Tokyo Games last year (3:56.69).
3. USA/Australia/Italy, Men’s 4×100 Medley Relay (SCM) – 2022 SC World Championships
The last race of the 2022 Short Course Worlds Championships was one for the books. The United States, Australia and Italy were locked in an enthralling battle that ultimately saw the three nations separated by just eight one-hundredths of a second when all was said and done. The U.S. and Australia tied for gold in a time of 3:18.98, breaking the world record set by Russia in 2009, and the Italians also went under the previous mark of 3:19.16 in 3:19.06, but had to settle for bronze. The race included the fastest freestyle split in history from Kyle Chalmers (44.63) for Australia and the second-fastest ever for U.S. breaststroker Nic Fink (54.88).
2. Kristof Milak (HUN), Men’s 200 Butterfly (LCM) – 1:50.34 – 2022 World Championships
We love clubs. The 1:50 club in the men’s 200 butterfly only has one season-ticket holder: Kristof Milak. Milak did not miss the opportunity to remind the world that he stands above the rest in the final of the 200 fly at the World Championships in his hometown of Budapest. With a time of 1:50.34, he improved his own world record of 1:50.73, further distancing himself from the rest of the world. Michael Phelps (1:51.51) is the only swimmer in history who has been within two seconds of Milak in the event.
1. David Popovici (ROU), Men’s 100 Freestyle (LCM) – 46.86 – 2022 European Championships
Not all races are equal. And no event is quite like 100 freestyle in long course meters, period. It’s often referred to as the blue ribbon event of the swimming competition at major international events. 17-year-old David Popovici deserves to be nominated twice in this ranking and earns first place thanks to the most incredible performance of the year (to many, maybe of the last 10 years). The new world record in the men’s 100 freestyle, which is now 46.86 is incredible in many ways, the room for improvement that David seems to have, the age of those who set it, and the fluidity to which he glides through the water. It seems to be only the beginning. The previous world record of 46.91, held by Brazilian Cesar Cielo, had been on the books for 13 years, and was incredibly set in the same pool, Rome’s Foro Italico, that Popovici swam to the new standard.
Previous Top 10 Swims of the Year Lists