Google Says Katie Ledecky’s The Greatest Female Swimmer Of All Time. Is She?

7-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky was nice enough to provide a recap of her October training and some insight into what she’s thinking on her fourth Olympic run-up.  A fourth Olympics is a big milestone, which got me thinking, and then I got lost down a Ledecky rabbit hole.  When I’m stuck in a swimming rabbit hole, I call Braden Keith first, but he’s too busy. I talk to Coleman Hodges, but he’s out of town.  I even ask Yanyan Li, but she’s a student in college.  So, I’m alone today.

The hurdle that sent me down the rabbit hole–striving to nail down where Katie Ledecky is at right now at this point in swimming history.

I search Google: Who is the greatest female swimmer of all time?

Katie Ledecky tops the search results with her Wikipedia page, but I know the Olympic medal count for women by heart, and Wikipedia is often wrong. (More on that below.)

I consult AI, asking ChatGPT with the same prompt. AI says Katie Ledecky, but AI only lists U.S. swimmers at first, which is a very big problem. ChatGPT lists Katie Ledecky, Dara Torres, Missy Franklin, Janet Evans, and Shirley Babashoff. About 6 seconds later it loads Kristin Otto, the East German who won 6 gold medals at the 1988 Olympics.  AI is simply not there yet.

I got lost down this rabbit hole because of fear.  On the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, I over-hyped Katie Ledecky and too liberally used the word “icon” too soon for swim fans–something I’m guilty of doing. Olympic peers and swim fans pushed back–hard.

So, I’m curious. How would you characterize Ledecky’s career at this point in time? Keep in mind, she’s made noises about swimming until the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Here are a few top-line data points:

  • 7x Olympic gold medalist
  • 10x Olympic medalist
  • 16x World Championship individual golds (lcm) edging Michael Phelps’ 15 WC gold medals
  • 32x World Championships medalist

This year alone, 2023, Ledecky’s 11th year as an elite:

Sometimes I think we all take for granted how dominant she is, often racing 800 and 1500 free alone within the TV frame. We just expect it, like we expect her to win the 800 free at the Paris Olympics—12 years after wining this event at the 2012 London Olympics. She hasn’t lost in the 800 free since she was 15 years old!

Ledecky should pick up three more Olympic medals in Paris. I think fans expect that at minimum. She could pick up four medals, 400, 800, 1500 free, and the 4×200 free relay.

Through the Olympic point of view Ledecky has 7 golds medals. Jenny Thompson has the most with 8. I think Ledecky picks up two more gold medals in Paris, putting her at 9, the most.

Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin are tied with the most Olympic medals overall, at 12. (And Wikipedia leaves Natalie Coughlin off the TOP OLYMPIC MEDALISTS LIST. And Google isn’t Natalie’s friend either, unless you’re very specific about her in the search.) ***Editor-in-Chief Braden Keith note, and I’m writing this. Braden just sent the text. Natalie is not on the Wikipedia list of TOP OLYMPIC SWIMMING MEDALISTS because she won three golds. So, I made a mistake thinking she should’ve been on the list because of her 12 total medals. The last name on that list has four gold medals.

If Ledecky earns three Olympic medals in Paris, she’s tops this list at 13 total. That’s the end of any argument–maybe.  Emma McKeon has 11 Olympic medals, one more than Ledecky right now (10).  Even with her slightly disappointing 2023 World Champs, McKeon still she anchored a 51.9 on the world record setting Aussie 400 free relay that won gold. McKeon could pop in Paris adding more medals.

However, at the end of the day, I think Ledecky’s earned the GOAT crown for swim-fans because we include World Championships.  Seven Olympic golds and 21 World Championship golds (16 of them individually) is beast-mode. She’s the GOAT. Period. But who cares what I think? I want to know what you think. Drop your comments below.

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Opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the interviewed guests do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the hosts, SwimSwam Partners, LLC and/or SwimSwam advertising partners.

This is a Gold Medal Media production presented by Host Gold Medal Mel Stewart is a 3-time Olympic medalist and the co-founder of, a Swimming News website.

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27 days ago


Steve G
28 days ago

Shane Gould She set eleven world records before retiring at 16 years old and is still, to this day, the only swimmer in history to hold all freestyle world records, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and the 200m Individual Medley at the same time.
She won 3 golds, a silve and a bronze at the 1972 Olympics at age 15.

Gould retired from competitive swimming due to the pressure placed by her success and media. She didn’t enter a race for over two decades. In 2003, Gould made a return and showed the world she still had it. She competed in the Masters level of swimming in 2003 and set a world record in her age group in… Read more »

Steve G
28 days ago

Shane Gould – simply dominant before she retired (far too young) then came back many years later and was dominant again. What could have been if she didn’t retire early…

Steve Nolan
28 days ago

Answer’s probably yes just given her current resume, but because she’s been pretty clearly surpassed in the 400 free the last few years…I dunno, takes a little shine off of it to me.

Like I get dropping the 200 free – that’s the edge of her range, even tho she’s still world-class at it – but that she’s only really the (massive) world-leader in the two longest events feels a little less GOAT-like.

29 days ago


Alison England
1 month ago

Why do so many posts mention Phelps? The thread is about the best FEMALE swimmer!

Reply to  Alison England
1 month ago

A guess? Context. A second guess? Comparison. Isn’t the ultimate recognition to be ”The GOAT,” and not just the ”Gender GOAT?”

Reply to  Alison England
1 month ago

Phelps is considered the overall GOAT and male GOAT.

Choosing a GOAT is a complex question. I think comparisons are being made because calling Phelps GOAT is easy because of how far ahead he is from everyone else. Like there just isn’t any statistic you could possibly pull that would deny him the title.

However, Ledecky’s achievements are amazing, but she isn’t “ahead of the field” by anywhere near as much. So some are saying “why isn’t calling Phelps the GOAT complex but for Ledecky it is?”. And that needs to be explained.

T Frank
Reply to  Alison England
1 month ago

The Phelps stuff is the usual, but also because GM Mel makes a big point of highlighting (“whoa!!” says Mel) in the video that Ledecky just passed Phelps for most individual event World Championship gold medals.Great informative video by whomever conducted it. Ledecky is a GOAT human who shines through and she obviously couldn’t care less about her labels or medal tallies. From the interview, it is again clear she just does the work and enjoys the sport, her team, and competitive challenges. With apologies for paraphrasing Muhammad Ali, Ledecky is not the greatest, she’s the double greatest.

1 month ago

Who knows the answer to this question?

Which female swimmer set the most world records?

I tend to like swimmers who had Olympic medals in multiple strokes. The sport of swimming involves 4 strokes plus the medleys.

What is the point of the medley events but to show who has mastery of all the strokes?

Kornelia Ender does have WRs in freestyle, butterfly and backstroke and the 200 IM. I don’t think anyone else has done that. But doping of course.

Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
Reply to  JohnCena
1 month ago

I feel like winning a medley is not the same as being elite in multiple strokes. Like someone HAS to win the 200 and 400 IM every time. But it’s not that often that someone wins gold medals in multiple strokes.

You could have someone who wins the 100 of all 4 strokes but doesn’t win an IM medal. I would still consider them more versatile than a 200IM winner. You could also have a 200/400IM double winner who has no chance at a medal in an individual stroke (which is pretty common actually).

I basically treat IM as a fifth stroke when considering versatility.

Reply to  Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
1 month ago

Yes, there have been many IM specialists like Stephanie Rice.

Natalie Coughlin has WC medals in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.

Reply to  JohnCena
1 month ago

…and Natalie has Olympic medals in back, free, and IM.

Reply to  Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
1 month ago

Any swimmer that could possibly win the 100 Gold Medal in all four strokes would win the 200 IM by 2-3 seconds conservatively. Probably a lot more.

Someone who is a 49 flyer, 51 backstroker, 56 breaststroker and a 46+ freestyler would destroy the field in a 200 IM!!

Reply to  MarkB
1 month ago

Lots of elite 100 swimmers who can’t swim a 200 to save their life.

Alison England
Reply to  MarkB
1 month ago

On that basis, MA should wipe the floor with everyone on a 2IM, as he is so good at 50s of all strokes. But we all know that he cannot sustain it over a 200!

Reply to  Alison England
1 month ago

MA *is* an elite 200 IMer though. 50s have less correlation with a 200 than 100s do, and if anything, I would argue that his 200 IM is better than his individual 100s, not worse.

If MA improved on all of his 100s so that he was a gold medal contender in all of them, I’m sure he would wipe the field in the 200 IM as well. Hell, forget everything except free- if he got just his 100 free to a 47 low, he would probably destroy in the 200 IM

Last edited 1 month ago by jeff
Andy Hardt
Reply to  MarkB
1 month ago

Yes, this is correct. The poster your responded to was making a good point, albeit imperfectly: being good at the IM and being good at multiple individual strokes aren’t exactly the same thing, and while there’s an argument to be made for the IM champ as “most versatile”, there’s also an argument that a two-stroke winner should take that title, even while being relatively weak in the other two strokes.

But you’re completely right that a 100-meter (long course) gold medal winner in all four strokes (in the modern world) would be completely alien and by far (by far!) the best swimmer we’ve ever seen. That hypothetical person would absolutely crush the world in the 200 IM, among probably several… Read more »

La all star
Reply to  MarkB
1 month ago

They’d also be like a WR holder in all strokes with those times though

1 month ago

I’m surprised so few people mentioned Klochkova in their discussion.

Reply to  rhode
1 month ago

Ugh im one of those! I made a list below of most individual medals per swimmer. Completely forgot her. And she is top 5 all-time for most individual gold medals at the Olympics. Crazy how narratives evolve.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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