SwimSwam Pulse: 52.4% Pick Ledecky As Swimmer of the 2010s

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side, or you can find the poll embedded at the bottom of this post.

Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers to pick the top swimmer of the past decade:


Question: Who was the #1 swimmer of the 2010s as a whole?

A majority of fans picked Katie Ledecky as the #1 overall swimmer of the 2010s, compared to just 38% for Michael Phelps.

In our end-of-decade coverage, we named Phelps the top swimmer of the decade, thanks to his 12 Olympic medals during that decade and his starring roles in both 2010s Olympics: London 2012 and Rio 2016. However, voters clearly favored Ledecky, who dominated the world distance freestyles from 2012 onwards.

Ledecky only won six Olympic medals in the 2010s compared to Phelps’ dozen, but some of that is because she was just 15 years old during a 2012 Olympics where she won the 800 free in a massive upset. Ledecky dominated world record books this decade, setting and resetting the 800 and 1500 free records, and she also won World titles in the 200 free, 400 free and 4×200 and 4×100 free relays.

The dark horse in this poll was Katinka Hosszuwho doesn’t have quite the same Olympic resume (four medals, all at the 2016 Games), but dominated at so many levels in the 2010s. Hosszu was a perennial powerhouse on the World Cup series. She won 14 World Championships medals in long course and 27 World Championships medals in short course over the decade, not to mention an absurd 47 European Championships medals between short course and long course, all between 2010 and 2019.

3.2% of fans picked the field compared to the top three. The comments on our top 20 swimmers of the decade post mostly focused on Caeleb Dresselwho definitely surged to the top of the World late in the decade, but who didn’t win an individual Olympic or World Champs medal until 2017. Other top contenders: Ryan Lochte, Adam Peaty, Missy Franklin and Sarah Sjostrom.


Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks voters which stroke changes the most from long course swimming to short course swimming:

Which stroke is the most different between long course and short course?

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A3 Performance is an independently-owned, performance swimwear company built on a passion for swimming, athletes, and athletic performance. We encourage swimmers to swim better and faster at all ages and levels, from beginners to Olympians.  Driven by a genuine leader and devoted staff that are passionate about swimming and service, A3 Performance strives to inspire and enrich the sport of swimming with innovative and impactful products that motivate swimmers to be their very best – an A3 Performer.

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No way josé

Old Man Chalmers

individual olympic golds last decade – 4/4
individual world titles last decade – 11/2
individual world records last decade – 14/0

M d e

It’s hard.

Versatility obviously gives Katinka an edge.

Katie’s dominance of FS is something no one else can match.

And Adam Peaty’s complete domination of 1 event is completely unparalleled.

They are the 3 swimmers I look at.

I think people putting Phelps over Katinka are being unfair. I think that’s definitely the America centric nature of this site coming through. The fact h e only really swam for half or less of the decade rules him out relative to Katie and Katinka for me.


I mean it’s one thing to put Katinka over Phelps. But not understanding why he’s in the conversation is silly. His Olympic resume from this decade is 9 golds and 3 silvers. Spitz’s career is 9 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze. Completely throw away everything Phelps did before 2010, and he’d still be in a tie for the title of most gold medals ever won by an Olympian in any sport, and he’d also be tied for most Olympic medals of any color ever won by a swimmer. Throw away Athens and Beijing, and we’re STILL talking about him as maybe the best swimmer in history. Sure he was retired for 5 of the decade’s years, but nobody found… Read more »


No logical way you can place Phelps over Ledecky in the 2010s decade. Ledecky was USA Swimming’s Swimmer of the Year five times during the decade (Phelps none–singular award given to one swimmer per year) and Ledecky won USA Swimming Performance (Swim) of the Year five times (again, Phelps none). Ledecky was five-time Female World Swimmer of Year in the 2010s, and for four straight years in one stretch. She won 11 individual event World Championship titles on top of her Olympic medals and set or re-set World Records 14 times.

M d e

Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer of all time by far no question. But he swam for less than half the decade. I also think relay medals are irrelevant when talking individual awards. Being a non US swimmer is a complete killer if we consider relays equally. The only way he is in this discussion over Katinka or Katie is if we ignore everything else and only focus on the 2 Olympic games. That’s a trap i try very hard not to fall into as I think its a disservice to the athletes and the sport and creates an environment where even us who seriously do love the sport only care once every 4 years, and if that is our… Read more »


Ledecky’s dominance in 800 free since 2012 cant be over-stated. She nearly has top 25 times ever. I think Adlington’s old WR sits #24

M d e

I agree.

However we have seen people completely dominate distance events before, if not to the extent she has.

I have never seen anything like Peaty. His 56.8 would be like Katie being 16 seconds clear of number 2 all time.

To be clear for me I’d have Katie and Katinka as a clear 1a/1b for an award like this over Peaty, I just can see a pretty unique case being built for Peaty based on his extreme dominance of a sprint event, which I’ve never seen before.


12 seconds would be the same percentile as Peaty over #2 time. Ledecky’s best is 10 seconds faster than #2. Peaty is better, but closer than one may think

M d e

800 free traditionally has had a larger range.

It’s an event that has quite often had a dominant swimmer well clear of the field.

The shorter the event is the less the range between the swimmers usually is. Even as a percentage.


There are obviously different understanding and therefore different definitions of versatility. We can talk about biological versatility like in case of singer with vocal range of 5 octaves. Or in case of a swimmer who swims at World record level from 50 through 200 distances ( Sjostrom). Or in case of a swimmer who medals at Olympics from 100 through 800 or from 200 through 1500 at World Championships. The achievements of Ledecky can be done by two swimmers only who have different type of muscle fiber. All these cases are examples of biological versatility and are extremely rare. The versatility of unrelated skills like in modern pentathlon is completely different thing. If Hosszu could swim at World level at… Read more »

M d e

Katinka can swim world class fly/back and free.

We get thay you hate her, but she has literally won world championship medals in fly and back. Plus her 200 free PB is 1:55.4, which would have won a medal at worlds the year she swam it except she swam other events instead.

Her breaststroke is by far her worst stroke, and she is probably borderline world class at it based on her SC times.

Old Man Chalmers

“You are absolutely right. This record [200m backstroke SCM WR] shouldn’t be in Hosszu’s name. It should be Smith or Franklin or Baker or Masse etc. Any real backstroker. How in the world Hosszu can be backstroke world record holder? In particular stroke she is world recorder holder only when nobody of real swimming aces cares about that.” – Yozhik, October 2019

Ol' Longhorn

“to be a good IMer doesn’t mean to be versatile.” You win the Internet today, buddy.

M d e

On top of that she has won world championship medals in fly and back, and has put up world championship level swims in the 200 free.

Old Man Chalmers



> And Adam Peaty’s complete domination of 1 event is completely unparalleled.

I think this overstates things. Sure, his relative % gap over the next fastest guy in the 100 is larger than Ledecky’s in the 800/1500 (equivalent would be her going 8:02.15/15:16.17). But then, Ledecky actually has more of the top 25 performances all time in the 800 (24/25, including the top 22) than Peaty (20/25, including the top 17). Also, so far Ledecky’s won more international medals in the 800 (2x Oly, 4x World) than Peaty (1x Oly, 3x World).

So I dunno about “completely unparalleled.” Complete dominance, absolutely. But I wouldn’t put them on such different footing.

M d e

Placings are irrelevant and so are the number of top 25 swims. The only thing separating them on that is the number of times they have swam the event at a top or relatively top level meet. They have both been untouchable. Peaty broke onto the scene later and has had less swims. This is normal considering he is a male sprint breaststroker as opposed to a female distance freestyle. Peaty has been dominant in a way we have never seen a sprinter be before at a 100m event. We have seen incredibly dominant female distance freestylers before. Even by percentage 100m races have historically been much closer. To be clear, Ledecky and Hosszu would both be above Peaty in… Read more »



FWIW, this article actually broke down the most dominant WRs and found that Peaty’s 100 Br was indeed the most extreme WR, but only very slightly ahead of Ledecky’s 1500 Fr.

M d e

The 1500 needs time to adjust now being an Olympic event. No one (including Ledecky) cared for a long time.


I vote Ledecky all day.

Both have 4 individual Olympic gold medals in 3 separate events. However, Ledecky won 11 individual World Titles, while Phelps won only 2. Even if we give him credit for titles he might have won in 2015, he still has 5 or fewer. Moreover, Ledecky swam unbelievable times. Phelps, on the other hand, didn’t break a single individual world record, official or textile (to be fair, he was very close to the 200 IM WR a few times, and nearly nabbed the tWR in the 100 fly in 2015).

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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