Phelps & Ledecky Finish in Top 5 of AP “Athlete of the Decade” Voting

A pair of swimmers have finished in the top 5 of the Associate Press Athlete of the Decade voting.

In the battle for the men’s honor, Michael Phelps finished 5th in the voting, while in the women’s competition, Katie Ledecky was 3rd.

Top 5, Male AP Athlete of the Decade

  1. Lebron James, basketball
  2. Tom Brady, football
  3. Usain Bolt, track & field
  4. Lionel Messi, soccer
  5. Michael Phelps, swimming

Top 5, Female AP Athlete of the Decade

  1. Serena Williams, tennis
  2. Simone Biles, gymnastics
  3. Katie Ledecky, swimming
  4. Lindsey Vonn, skiing
  5. Mikaela Shiffrin, skiing

Phelps won 12 of his record 28 Olympic medals in the 2010s, so he earned enough votes to finish 5th in spite of the peak of his career coming in the prior decade. Phelps retired after the 2012 Olympic Games, returned in 2014, was subsequently suspended after a DUI arrest, and bounced back to win 5 more gold medals in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. Phelps also won 4 World Championships in the decade, though because of retirement and suspension, his last World Championship meet was in 2011.

He was named the Associated Press Male Athelete of the Year in 2008 and 2012.

Ledecky, meanwhile, has had her entire elite swimming career in the 2010s, which includes 5 Olympic gold medals and 15 World Championship gold medals. She is the current World Record holder in the 400, 800, and 1500 meter freestyles in long course. Ledecky was named the 2017 Associated Press Athlete of the Year.

The male award winner, 35-year old Lebron James, won 3 NBA Championships in the 2010s (2012, 2013, 2016). He played in 8 of the 10 NBA Finals on offer in the decade, consecutively from 2011 through 2018. He won All-NBA First Team honors every year from 2008-2018, was an NBA All-Star in every year of the decade, and won 3 of his 4 MVP awards in the 2010s (2010, 2012, 2013).

He’s also a 3-time Olympic medalist, including gold medals in 2008 and 2012.

Serena Williams is the most decorated female tennis player of all-time. Her 23 Grand Slam singles titles are the most in the open era, and she has also won 14 Grand Slam titles in doubles playing with her sister Venus Williams. 12 of her Grand Slam singles titles came in the 2010s Serena won the Olympic gold medal in singles in 2012 and in doubles in 2000, 2008, and 2012.

In the 2010s, Williams reached the finals at 52.7% of tournaments in which she played; the next-best on that list is Maria Sharapova at 29.2%. Williams reached finals at an even higher rate – 19 of 33 (57.6%) – at Grand Slam tournaments in the 2010s. She was the world’s #1 ranked player for 196 weeks, which is more than the next two best players in the decade combined. In total, she won 89.3% of her matches (377-45). She even won the Australian Open title while pregnant without losing a single set.

The awards are voted on by sports writers and sports editors of the Associated Press, which is an American-based enterprise.

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Oh look, not a single non-American in the female top 5.

Ol' Longhorn

Easy to say, but who specifically would you add in preference to one of these? And why?


Marit Bjoergen should bump out one of the skiers. Have a look at her medal record on Wikipedia (both Olympic and Worlds).

Ol' Longhorn

Active for only 8 years of the decade. Retired after 2017-18 season. Vonn active 9 years. Has to be something said for longevity. Probably why Phelps dropped so low on the list.


Her achievements are still better in less years (it’s not even close) and Bolt has been retired since 2017 as well.


Vonn is on the list because she’s the darling of US media. That’s the only reason. I’d have Hosszu above her for a start.


Although I would not have her on my list LV has more world cup wins than any other female alpine skier in history and is 2nd only to the legendary Stenmark among all skiers. So she has achieved a lot. Having said that I can see a stronger argument for Shiffrin as she has been much more dominant than Vonn was. She has accumulated WC wins at a pace LV never approached. And if we’re just looking at the last decade she has accomplished more in that time frame. Consideration should also go to Brazilian footballer Marta and Norwegian XC skier Borgen.


No overall WC title since 2012, just one Olympic medal (bronze) in 2018. I take the point RE World Cup wins, but if she makes the list, Hirscher should be number 1 male. Overall WC champion 8x on the bounce (2012-2019), 2 Olympics Golds and a Silver, utterly dominant.

Chaitha D.

Honestly I don’t know if I can put bolt ahead of Phelps. Phelps won more medals, more golds and was at the top of his sport for longer. But if this award if just considering the last decade I guess it is pretty close


Whilst we all have an inherent swimming bias, I’m not sure you can compare them. Every able bodied child on the planet has raced to a tree/street corner. The pool of people who could discover sprinting talent is vast, a relatively lucky few ever swim in a 25 yard/meter pool. That also means many more feel a sense connection and awe when watching Bolt than Phelps. For the same reason, I think Bolt should sit ahead of Brady. If anything, the men’s shows how relatively weak this decade has been, 3 of the 5 arguably didn’t even have their own best decade (Brady, Phelps, Bolt) and when 2010 started both Messi and Lebron had already been active and world class… Read more »

Coach Mike 1952

Regardless of order, these ten are some rarified air.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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