Shoutout to SwimSwam commenter jeff for inspiring part of this article.
Leon Marchand‘s 2022-23 NCAA season was perfect.
No, Marchand’s season was not just perfect because of the way he dominated his competition to sweep his events at NCAAs, or because of all the records he broke in so many different events. His season was literally perfect because he did not lose a single individual race all season, going 26-for-26 in a time span running from ASU’s first dual meet against Georgia in September 2022 to the NCAA Championships in March 2023.
In fact, Marchand becomes the first Division I NCAA champion swimmer since Cal’s Natalie Coughlin to pull off an undefeated individual season, with Coughlin having done so 20 years ago during the 2002-03 season.
Compared to Marchand, Coughlin won more individual races in her perfect season, going 35-for-35 in 13 meets compared to Marchand’s 26-for-26 in 9 meets. In addition, Coughlin also won a greater variety of events, having claimed victories in 11 different events while Marchand won 7.
However, Marchand’s perfect season contained more NCAA-record-breaking swims, as he broke the NCAA record six different times across three different events (200 IM, 400 IM, 200 breast) in addition to clocking the fastest relay splits ever in three other races (50 breast, 100 breast, 200 free). Meanwhile, Coughlin broke the NCAA record three times across three different events (200 free, 200 fly, 100 free), though it’s important to note that she had already been the NCAA record holder in the 100 back, 100 fly, and 200 back at that point in her career.
Note: We only factored finals races in official competition for the purposes of this article.
Leon Marchand‘s Wins, 2022-23 Season:
- ASU vs. Georgia vs. Missouri: 200 breast (1:57.67), 200 fly (1:43.21), 2o0 IM (1:44.32)
- ASU vs. Wisconsin: 200 back (1:42.82), 100 breast (53.16), 400 IM (3:41.59)
- ASU vs. USC: 100 breast (52.75), 200 breast (1:53.34), 200 IM (1:42.55)
- NC State Invitational: 200 fly (1:39.57), 200 IM (1:39.28), 400 IM (3:33.65)
- ASU vs. Stanford: 100 breast (51.15), 200 IM (1:38.89), 200 breast (1:49.16)
- ASU vs. Cal: 100 breast (51.01), 200 breast (1:48.82), 400 IM (3:31.84 – NCAA record)
- ASU vs. Arizona: 100 back (44.77), 500 free (4:07.81)
- Pac-12 Championships: 200 IM (1:37.81), 400 IM (3:31.57 – NCAA record), 200 Breast (1:47.67 – NCAA record)
- NCAA Championships: 200 IM (1:36.34 – NCAA record), 400 IM (3:28.82 – NCAA record), 200 Breast (1:46.91 – NCAA record)
Natalie Coughlin‘s Wins, 2002-03 Season:
- Cal vs. Pacific: 1000 free (9:55.25), 100 back (55.41), 100 fly (53.21)
- SMU Classic: 100 fly (52.99), 100 back (54.53), 200 back (1:57.38)
- Cal vs. Georgia: 100 back (53.62), 100 free (48.06), 100 fly (51.90)
- Cal vs. Clemson: 400 IM (4:11.76), 200 back (2:04.48)
- Cal vs. Rice: 200 free (1:50.99), 100 back (56.09)
- Auburn Invitational: 500 free (4:37.62), 200 free (1:42.65 – NCAA record), 200 fly (1:51.91 – NCAA record)
- Cal vs. ASU: 200 free (1:47.88), 100 free (49.29), 200 IM (2:00.62)
- Cal vs. Arizona: 200 IM (1:59.03), 200 back (1:57.86),
- Cal vs. USC: 200 free (1:47.24), 200 fly (1:56.04), 100 fly (51.88)
- Cal vs. UCLA: 100 back (52.22), 100 free (48.65), 100 fly (51.96)
- Cal vs. Stanford: 200 free (1:49.26), 200 fly (1:55.03), 100 fly (52.82)
- Pac-10 Championships: 50 free (22.05), 100 fly (51.10), 100 free (47.42 – NCAA record)
- NCAA Championships: 100 fly (50.62), 100 back (50.92), 200 back (1:53.53)
Prior to the start of midseason invites during the 2022-23 season, we counted a total of 17 swimmers from Division I top 25-ranked programs who were still undefeated individually. That number narrowed down to five after midseasons invites, and when dual meet season wrapped up and conferences started, Marchand and LSU’s Maggie MacNeil were the last ones standing. And although MacNeil stayed undefeated through day one of the NCAA women’s championships when she won the 50 free, she eventually lost to Kate Douglass by 0.05 seconds in the 100 fly to get her streak snapped. In addition, she was also third to Torri Huske and Gretchen Walsh in the 100 free.
Marchand and Coughlin’s perfect seasons are remarkable because some of the best NCAA swimmers of this generation were never able to pull off what the two of them did. In total, there have been 20 different swimmers who have gone 3-for-3 at NCAA Championship meets since 2003, and most of them had their perfect seasons ruined by racing “off-events” at dual meets. To be undefeated all year requires a combination of versatility, dominance, and swimming fast all year, which are things that only one-in-a-generation swimmers can exhibit all at once.
List Of Three-For-Three NCAA Championship Swimmers (2003-present) And Their First Loss Of The Season:
- 2002-03 Natalie Coughlin: None
- 2004-05 Kristy Coventry: 2nd in the 100 breast at Auburn Invite, December 2004
- 2005-06 Kara Lynn Joyce: 4th in the 50 free at Georgia Fall Invitational, December 2005
- 2005-06 Ryan Lochte: 2nd in the 100 back at Dallas Morning News classic, January 2006
- 2010-11 Katinka Hosszu: 5th in the 100 breast and 7th in the 100 fly at USC Sprint Invite, October 2010
- 2014-15 Missy Franklin: 3rd in the 100 IM at King/Queen of the pool invite, September 2014
- 2016-17 Caeleb Dressel: 2nd in the 100 fly and 3rd in the 100 back vs. Georgia, October 2016
- 2016-17 Katie Ledecky: 3rd in the 200 fly vs. Texas, November 2016
- 2016-17 Will Licon: 4th in the 50 free vs. Texas Christian, February 2017
- 2017-18 Caeleb Dressel: 2nd in the 100 breast at All-Florida Invite, September 2017
- 2017-18 Ella Eastin: 2nd in the 200 fly vs. NC State, November 2017
- 2018-19 Beata Nelson: 3rd in the 200 free vs. Purdue and Tennessee, November 2018
- 2018-19 Andrew Seliskar: 2nd in the 100 fly, 3rd in the 100 breast, 6th in the 100 back at King/Queen of the pool invite, September 2018
- 2020-21 Ryan Hoffer: 2nd in the 100 fly at Stanford Invitational, November 2020
- 2020-21 Shaine Casas: 2nd in the 400 IM at Texas First Chance Invitational, October 2020
- 2020-21 Paige Madden: 2nd in the 50 free vs. Navy, October 2020
- 2021-22 Alex Walsh: 2nd in the 50 breast vs. Cal, October 2021
- 2021-22 Kate Douglass: 9th in the 200 free, 4th in the 100 breast at Tennessee Invitational, November 2021
- 2022-23 Kate Douglass: 2nd in the 100 IM, 3rd in the 200 breast, 3rd in the 100 free vs. Texas, November 2022
- 2022-23 Leon Marchand: None
So with Marchand and Coughlin both completing perfect seasons, the question of who was better is inevitably going to come up. The simple answer is that it’s up for debate. Both swimmers accomplished things in their own remarkable ways, and swim fans across different generations will have varying opinions. In addition, in NCAA swimming when certain meets matter more than others, being undefeated is not the biggest metric to define greatness. The conversation about who is the true NCAA GOAT is something that can be discussed another time, so for now, let’s just take this moment to appreciate how we were treated to two perfect seasons that happened exactly 20 years apart.
I wonder if a perfect season is an NCAA recognized achievement or Swimswam finding.
wow this kid is great at pushing off walls
Natalie is the most dominant college swimmer of all time. Leon could challenge this with 2 more great years under his belt.
Where did Kate Douglass slip up?
it’s in the article
We just gonna ignore the fact dude is throwing up the shocker? 😂😂
you must live under a rock
Swimswam should do a breakdown of theoretical WC and OLY schedule for Marchand. I saw that the 200breast and 200IM conflict at the WC this summer, so I wonder if Marchand may drop the 200IM in favor of the 200breast this summer just so he has some racing experience in the event at the international stage. Otherwise, he’d go into OLY next summer with no experience pacing the race against a full field.
The 200 FL conflicts with the 200 IM yet Leon Marchand managed to navigate that hurdle.
You will see the difference if you have a look at the schedule.
I believe he’s already announced that he won’t swim 200 breast in Fukuoka.
Assuming he swims 2IM, 4IM, 2Breast, 2Fly and all the relays (assuming France makes every final and he doesn’t swim any relay heats) then his schedule in Paris would be:
Day 1 Heats: X
Day 1 Finals: 4×100 free relay
Day 2 Heats: 400IM
Day 2 Finals: 400IM Final
Day 3 Heats: X
Day 3 Finals: X
Day 4 Heats: 2Fly, 2Breast
Day 4 Finals: 2Fly semi, 2Breast semi, 4×200 relay
Day 5 Heats: X
Day 5 Finals: 2Fly final, 2Breast final
Day 6 Heats: 200IM
Day 6 Finals: 200IM semi
Day 7 Heats: X
Day 7 Finals: 200IM final… Read more »
if he announced he isn’t swimming 2 breast why are you showing him swimming it?
he only confirmed that for the wc, not the olympics. their post is about leon’s theoretical schedule for paris, where the 200 breast is still a possibility
It’s really unfortunate that the 200 breast semi is right before the 200 IM final at worlds.
In Paris, there isn’t a 200 breast / 200 IM conflict, but there is a 200 fly / 200 breast conflict. Between the 200 fly and 200 breast, I think he should choose the 200 breast.
I don’t think he should drop the 200 IM this summer, but I agree that it would be good for him to get some international racing experience in the 200 breast before Paris.
Time to turn pro.
I think he is very happy being a team player at asu and very happy with bob. If he cares about money he can NIL and continue doing what he wants
He can’t benefit from NIL on a student visa but he could still turn pro after NCAA next year.
Can he not get a NIL at all, or only in USA? If he has a sponsorship in place in France would that impact his eligibility for a student visa in the US?
Leon Marchand could also redshirt a season to strictly focus on long course. Taylor Ruck redshirted not one but two seasons (2019-2020, 2020-2021).
Nothing further to be gained in SCY. Time to graduate from the kiddie pool to the big boy pool.
so you’re a staunch defender of kate douglass’ lcm prowess, but insist that marchand hasn’t transitioned to lcm? weird
Natalie was so stupendously talented that her international results, great as they were, always felt like a slight underachievement.
There was probably unfair comparisons to Phelps, and also just unrealistic expectations because of how good she was, but all those silvers and bronzes in free and fly felt like slight failures, just because you assumed she should sweep every event every time.
Why did you think that?
Off the top of my head from 1976 thru 2012 which coincides with Coughlin’s last Summer Olympics:
Individual Gold Medals
Evans – 4
Bennett – 3
Caulkins – 2 (1984)
Coughlin – 2
Franklin – 2
Meagher – 2 (1984)
Soni – 2
Van Dyken – 2
Because of what I said above; she was a phenomenal talent.
Just stopping in to hold the mirror to the culture that can say that arguably one of the most prolific and successful Olympic careers in history across all genders, sports, and countries “felt” like a disappointment…
Not trying to dunk on/dono wall anyone.
This is a good opportunity for us to be honest about the demands of our sports culture, and how unhealthily cut-throat a lot of it is. Whether or not people read these doesn’t change it’s felt reality, I refer to your likely Australian heritage and what you do to those guys every 4 years as evidence.
You are faaaaast sir
Just to clarify, I’m well aware the ‘unfair comparisons’ and ‘expectations’ are and were unrealistic – hence the reference to them being unfair. Thats the point, that a career as successful as Natalie’s can – at the time – feel less than.
With 20 years of perspective you can see what was achieved – but the hype at the time can lead you to see what it’s not, as opposed to what it is. And that initial ‘feeling’ can still linger even though it’s not rational.
It’s a double edged sword. Talents like Leon, Summer et al get people excited – but that means that anything less than unprecedented results can, again unfairly, feel like it was short of expectations.
another way to look at it…..why didn’t Phelps do anything in short course? I know he didn’t swim college due to turning pro…but, 0 SCM world records by the most decorated Olympian of all time? Pretty weak. Didn’t see him do much in yards, either. Think Leon was 7-8 seconds better than Phelps in the 400 IM (yards). When you look at the full picture, 0 WR’s in Short Course, 0 NCAA titles, 0 USMS National Championships, minimal success in yards….I could easily argue Phelps isn’t top 10 swimmer all time. Natalie is clearly more complete.
Looking at Phelps 66 golds in international competition, 29 were from relays. The only thing holding Leon back from surpassing this will be… Read more »
Phelps had 8 Olympic medals, including 6 golds, at his second Olympics by the time he was Leon’s current age. Even Americans will discount SCY when discussing GOAT legacy because only people at US universities and high schools swim them.
Same for SCM. Americans are not exposed to SCM growing up, which makes them as usefully as SCY internationally to compare swimmers, and SCM worlds have very rarely attracted actually competition between all top athletes.
LCM is where 90% of a professional swimmers legacy will be written, mostly the Olympics, and Leon can make his first true inputs into that at home in Paris 2024. Him dominating the IMs from 2022 worlds till somewhere in the early 2030s… Read more »
Phelps retired at 30…its very realistic he could swim in Paris (if he wanted to). He walked away from the sport, very early.
Just because Leon is coming on a little late doesn’t mean he can’t have a great 15 years ahead of him.
I’m not sure anyone will win as many Golds as Phelps, but his individual gold count of 13 is very gettable.
When push comes to shove, if a guy sets a bunch of NCAA records, many SCM WR’s, and wins 10-12 individual Olympic Gold medals, they can be considered to have a better career than Phelps.
I actually respected that Natalie, unlike Phelps, focused on the events and training she liked. If NC tried to maximize her medal haul, she would have swam 2 back, 2 IM, etc. But in 04, she did 100 back and free. Period.
MP decided to win as many events as possible, but that’s not the only way to have an amazing career.