- Added Aaron Peirsol as previously having held all at the same time; MacNeil remains the only woman we can find.
- Katinka Hosszu had a “career” Grand Swam in the 200 IM and 400 IM. Only her and Ryan Lochte have done so in multiple events that we can find.
In many regards, it feels a little early to begin discussing Canadian butterflier Maggie MacNeil in terms of “GOAT” status. She still has a lot of swimming career to go at only 21-years old, and while she has been one of the most impressive swimmers in the world in 2021, she has only 3 Olympic medals, only 3 long course World Championship medals, and only a single gold medal at each.
But if we’re talking about the greatest runs of swimming in a single event ever, MacNeil may* have accomplished something this week that no woman, and only one man, has ever accomplished before.
MacNeil is now the defending champion in the 100 butterfly at the Olympics (Tokyo 2020/1), the long course World Championships (2019), the short course World Championships (2021), and the NCAA (2021).
She has achieved an “NCAA Grand Swam,” if you will.
This shows off that she is fast in all three courses, that she’s able to sustain and repeat her success, and that she’s been able to do it all at a fairly-young age. And, by the way, she’s the fastest-ever in the 100 yard fly (and 50 SCM back).
And even moreso, she’s sustained that success through a coaching change – her primary coach, Rick Bishop, left Michigan prior to this season to become the head coach at LSU.
There are other versions of this that one could throw together. A “European Grand Swam,” coupling European Championships with the three global titles; a “Commonwealth Grand Swam,” which includes a Commonwealth Games title; or other similar titles like an “Asian Grand Swam” or a “South American Grand Swam.”
Each has a different meaning, but this specific Grand Swam is unique in that it includes an age component, as it has to be done at a certain age (because most college swimmers are 23 or younger). The NCAA Championships are not as big as, say, the Olympics or World Championships, but the event is still one of the most elite meets in the world, and arguably one of the most intense.
While we cannot say for certain that nobody has ever done this before simultaneously in an individual event, we could not come up with a single name of a woman who has achieved it.
We did come up with one man, though it comes with a caveat.
Aaron Peirsol did it once, in the 200 backstroke. He won the 2004 Olympic title, 2004 Short Course World title, 2003 Long Course World title, and 2004 NCAA title. The caveat here is that the 2004 NCAA Championships were held in short course meters, so he never actually had it with the yards NCAA title.
But that is it.
In fact, only a very small list of swimmers have won all 4 titles in their career.
Natalie Coughlin achieved a career NCAA Grand Swam. One of the most-decorated swimmers ever, she has 11 career NCAA individual titles, including a 2001-2004 four-peat in the 100 back. She was the 2004 Olympic champion, the 2001 and 2007 long course World Champion, and the 2010 short course World Champion, but they were all spread out.
Caeleb Dressel has the career Grand Swam in the 100 free, but his timing was a bit off – before last weekend, he was the defending champion in the 100 free in long course Worlds (2019), short course Worlds (2018), Olympics (Tokyo 2020/1), and has many NCAA titles, but his last NCAA title in the event was 2018. Because he wasn’t the Rio Olympic Champion in the 100 free, he never held them all together.
Ryan Lochte has the career NCAA Grand Swam in two events, the 200 back and 400 IM, but he likewise was no longer the NCAA Champion in either event when he won his first Olympic gold medals. Lochte, interestingly, did have an NCAA Grand Swam in the 800 free relay – he was on the gold medal-winning relays at the 2004 Olympics, 2005 LC World Championships, 2004 SC World Championships, and 2005 NCAA Championships.
Brazilian Cesar Cielo has the career Grand Swam in the 50 free, where he’s also the World Record holder. He was the 2008 Olympic Champion, 2009/2011/2013 long course World Champion, 2010 Short Course World Champion, and most recently the 2008 NCAA Champion, but by the time he won that Short Course World Championship, he was no longer the NCAA Champion.
Another woman with a career NCAA Grand Swam was former USC Trojan Rebecca Soni. She won back-to-back 200 breast titles at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics; won the 200 breaststroke at the 2011 World Championships in long course, took the treble at the 2010 World Championships in short course, and from 2006-2009 became the first woman to win four straight 200 breaststroke NCAA titles. She even had a Pan Pac title.
A second USC woman also makes the career grand slam list: Katinka Hosszu won both the 200 IM and 400 IM at the 2016 Olympic Games. She has won both races multiple times at both the long course and short course World Championships, and she also won the 200 IM and 400 IM at the NCAA level. Her first Olympic golds didn’t come until several years after college graduation, though, so no simultaneous Grand Swam.
Soni was arguably the closest besides MacNeil to do it – at one point, she had won her most recent races at all four meets, but the timing of the last NCAA title to her first World Titles in the event left her just outside of this honor.
Here’s a breakdown of who else we checked who came pretty close:
- Ryan Murphy is the most recent swimmer who came close, in the 200 back specifically, but he’s never actually won a World Championship gold medal in the event in short course and long course, even as the World Record holder. He did win the 2017 NCAA title, 2016 Olympic title, 2017 long course silver medal, and 2018 short course silver medal, though, which is pretty close.
- Simone Manuel was the 2015, 2017, and 2018 NCAA Champion in the 100 free, 2016 Olympic champion in the 100 free, and 2017 long course World Champion int he 100 free, but has never raced at Short Course Worlds. Would she have won in 2016 or 2018 if she had raced? Hard to bet against it. But, the medals go to those who race.
- Missy Franklin was very close to the career Grand Swam in the 200 back: she won 2011 and 2013 long course World Championships, the 2012 Olympic gold medal, and the 2015 NCAA title, but in her one appearance at Short Course Worlds, in 2010 when she was 15, she took silver.
- Katie Ledecky, if we squint and push the 400/500 or 1650/1500 together, is close, but she has never raced at the Short Course World Championships.
- Chase Kalisz has an Olympic, long course World, and NCAA title in the 400 IM, but has never raced at Short Course Worlds.
- Brendan Hansen was very close. He’s got two long course World Championships each in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, a Short Course World Championship in each breaststroke distance, and three NCAA titles each in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. But he never got an individual Olympic gold: in 2004 he won silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200, and then in the 100 breast he had another bronze in 2012.
- Allison Schmitt had three of four in the 200 free, but never won the individual 200 free at the long course World Championships (she took silver in 2009).
- Dana Vollmer came close to a career Grand Swam in the 100 fly, but has no individual short course meters golds to her name.
- Amanda Beard was close, but her best finish at Short Course Worlds was a silver in 2004.
- The “everything, everywhere, no-qualifiers” GOAT, Michael Phelps, didn’t swim NCAA, so he wasn’t ever eligible. Interestingly, if you sub in, say, Pan Pacs for NCAAs, he still doesn’t have it – the limiting factor is that he only ever won a single World Short Course title, in the 200 free in 2004, and he never won a medal in that event at Pan Pacs.
Who did we miss? Is there anyone we didn’t think of who might have achieved this incredible feat?