Born on February 14, 1980 Nichoals Santos is a veteran sprint specialist originally from São Paulo, Brazil. Santos has a rich history of international swimming, which includes being a former South American Record Holder, Americas Record Holder and World Record Holder. As a primary 50 butterfly swimmer Santos also has the versatility to be competitive in the 100 and 50 freestyle events.
In the very beginning of his career Santos was primarily a sprint freestyle specialist. He qualified for the 2001 World Championships, and finished 30th in the 50-meter free, later that year broke the Short Course South American Record in the 50-meter fly. Over the next three years Santos competed at a variety of international meets including the World Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships, with his best finish coming in the 100-meter free at the 2004 World Championships. In 2004 Santos broke the South American Record in the 50-meter free, coming close to the World Record at that time.
In 2007 Santos had just come off a successful season with a 10th place finish in the 50-meter free at the Pan Pacific Championships. He started off the year by competing at the 2007 Pan American Games, where he won as a member of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay which set a new Pan American Record. He also pulled off winning a silver medal in the 50-meter free. At the 2007 Summer Universiade Santos picked up a silver in the 50-meter fly and a gold in the 50-meter free, which he set a new Meet Record.
Santos qualified for his first Olympic Games in 2008, which were held in Beijing. He only swam the 50-meter free, and advanced to the semi-finals of the event and finished in 16th place overall.
In 2009 Santos had a huge breakout season, breaking the South American Record as a member of the 4×100-meter free relay and the Americas Record in the 50-meter fly. At the 2009 World Championships in Rome he finished 5th place overall in the 50-meter fly, and reached the semi-finals of the 50-meter free but didn’t advance to the championship final after finishing 10th.
At the 2009 FINA World Cup Santos ended up beating the Olympic champion in the finals of the 50-meter fly and free, and broke the South American Record in both events during the World Cup. In November of that year Santos also became the first South American to swim the 50-meter short course free under 21 seconds.
2010 Short Course World Championships
At the 2010 World Championships in Dubai Santos was a member of the team that broke the South American Record in the 4×100-meter free relay. He also finished 4th in the 50-meter fly and 13th in the 50-meter free.
2012 London Olympics
Santos qualified for his second Olympic Games in 2012 with preparations to be a relay-only swimmer this time around. He was a member of the 4×100-meter free relay that came in 4th overall.
2013 World Championships
At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona Santos qualified 1st out of the semi-finals of the 50-meter fly. But in the final, Santos added time and then finished in 4th place, missing out on a medal. In the 4×100-meter medley relay Brazil finished 12th overall. At the World Cup in Beijing later in the year Santos broke the South American Record in the 50-meter fly.
2014 Short Course World Championships
At the 2014 World Championships, which were held in Doha, picked up two golds to start the meet off. He swam a leg of the 4×50-meter medley relay, consolidated of only medalists or world champions, which took gold and broke the World Record. That same day he also won a gold in the 4×50-meter mixed medley relay, this time breaking a South American Record. He also had the 50-meter fly, an event which he had won back in 2012. Facing Chad le Cos, Santos broke the Americas Record, but lost to le Clos resulting in a silver medal.
2015 World Championships
At 35 years old Santos is recognized as one of the most experienced swimmers in his field. Proving he can still swim the best at his age, Santos won a silver medal in the 50-meter fly, losing out on gold by just .12 seconds at the 2015 World Championships. His finish earned him the title of the oldest medalist in the World Championships.
2017 World Championships
Two years later, Santos was again at the World Championships and again won silver in the 50 meter butterfly. He finished in 22.79 and was even closer to securing gold that in 2015. He was 0.04 behind Great Britain’s Ben Proud. That time matched his best time from 2012 at the Maria Lenk Trophy. At 37-years-old the South American record holder became the oldest-ever swimmer to win a world championships medal.
2018 World Cup
Santos competed in the 2nd cluster of the world cup series, including stops in Eindhoven and Budapest. In Budapest, on the final day of competition, Santos broke the nearly decade old world record in the 50 fly, touching at 21.75 to break the super suited record of 21.80.
2018 Short Course World Championships
Santos backed up his world record performance in Budapest with a world title in Hangzhou, swimming 21.81 in the finals to claim his first individual world championship gold since 2012 (also in the 50 fly). He also won a bronze medal in the 4×50 medley relay, splitting 22.02.
2018 South American Male Swimmer of the Year
Santos ended 2018 with both a World Record and a World Championship, though not at the same time. For these feats, he was SwimSwam’s 2018 South American Swimmer of the Year.
2019 World Championships
After being invited by FINA to compete in the 50 fly, Santos made the most of it. In the 50 fly, Santos won his 3rd straight worlds medal in the event, touching for bronze in 22.79, the same time he registered in the 2017 final.
2020 Budapest Bubble
Santos won 4 of his 5 meets in the 50 fly, besting elite swimmers like Caeleb Dressel, Andriy Govorov and Chad le Clos. But while it would have been understandable for a 40-year-old veteran to focus entirely on the 50 fly, Santos stepped up to pull his weight for Team Iron in the busy ISL format.
He swam the 50 fly, 100 fly, and two relays in every regular-season meet, putting up key 100 free and 100 fly splits. His regular-season finale 21.78 in the 50 fly shattered the ISL’s record and finished the season as the #1 swim in the world for the short course meter event. That swim was just .03 seconds away from Santos’ own world record, set in 2018.
Here’s a look at all of his ISL swims across the busy season of competition:
|50 FLY (SKINS)
|100 FREE (SPLIT)
|100 FLY (SPLIT)
|47.05 & 47.89
|22.44 / 23.23
2020 Swammy Awards
For his accomplishments in the ISL, Santos earned the 2020 Swammy Award for South American Male of the Year.
2022 World Championships
In Budapest, Santos continued to add to his legacy, making it 4-straight medals in the 50 fly. In the final of the 50 fly on night 2, out of lane 8, Santos registered a 22.78, behind only Caeleb Dressel and just .01 ahead of Michael Andrew to earn silver.