The Olympic year is here. Again. Maybe. And we’re kicking off the year 2021 with a countdown of the top 100 women and top 100 men in world-level swimming heading into the Olympic year.
Who are the top 100 male and female swimmers you need to know about, you need to watch, with the biggest event in swimming less than 6 months away.
We’ll break down the list into multiple installments, so stay tuned as we continue with our lists.
We’ve placed a heavy priority on individual Olympic medal potential and world record potential, but we’ve also weighed potential for impact at other world-level events like Short Course Worlds, the ISL season, and the World Cup. These lists are, by nature, subjective. If you disagree, leave your thoughts/ranks in the comments.
Men’s #100 – #76
We’re not into our top gold medal contenders yet. But this crew just inside the top 100 are potential minor-medal-contenders, plus some names who could make big waves at Short Course Worlds or in the International Swimming League.
This is also a relatively young group, with a lot of fast-risers who might not be medal favorites right now, but could rise rapidly up the lists as the year goes on. The flip side of that are some former junior standouts who haven’t popped in a few years, but have the potential to make waves if they return to form.
#100: Nao Horomura, Japan – the Japanese butterflyer looked like a rising star early in this Olympic cycle with a 1:53.9 in the 200 fly at age 18. But since that 2017 swim, he has never broken 1:55 and needs a breakthrough year to get past this plateau.
#99: Christian Diener, Germany – Diener is definitely more of a short course specialist who probably isn’t an Olympic medal threat in the crowded backstrokes. But he merits inclusion on this list for his major ISL and short course meters impact. Diener was a top-50 ISL scorer in 2020 and #2 in the league in the 50 back.
#98: Takeshi Kawamoto, Japan – the #35 overall ISL scorer last year, Kawamoto is a pretty versatile flyer and backstroker. He’s better in the 50/100 of both strokes, so his Olympic medal chances are cut in half without the 50s in the mix, but like Diener, his ISL season was too good to leave off the list.
#97: Andrii Govorov, Ukraine – Govorov is pretty much a one-event specialist. But he is the world record-holder in that 50 fly, and has a pretty extensive medal resume there between Worlds and Euros in long course and short course. He’s also a solid ISL contributor.
#96: Qin Haiyang, China – Qin remains the world junior record-holder in the 200 breast (2:07.35) and 200 IM (1:57.06), but hasn’t bettered those times since 2017. Now 21, Qin really needs a marquee senior-level swim in the Olympic year.
#95: Wojciech Wojdak, Poland – the addition of the men’s 800 free to the Olympic program helps Wojdak, who won World Champs silver in that race in 2017. But he hasn’t broken 7:50 in nearly three-and-a-half years, so a bounce-back is needed to contend in Tokyo.
#94: Pawel Juraszek, Poland – the Polish record-holder has been 21-mid in the long course 50 free in each of the past few years, and did go 20.8 in short course meters in 2020. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Juraszek make the Olympic 50 free final.
#93: Andrea Vergani, Italy – Vergani has kind of yo-yoed in and out of international relevance, winning Euros gold with a 21.3 in the 50 free in 2018 before taking a three-month suspension for marijuana. Like Juraszek, he’s got a shot to make the Olympic 50 free final, which is really all you need to contend for a minor medal in an unpredictable sprint race.
#92: Hwang Sun-Woo, South Korea – as a 17-year-old, Hwang erased Korean swimming legend Park Tae-hwan from the national record books with a 48.25 100 free. Probably more relevant from an Olympic medal perspective, Hwang went 1:45.9 in the 200 free and could be a fast-riser into what is a relatively wide-open Olympic gold hunt if Sun Yang is indeed suspended.
#91: Shinri Shioura, Japan – Shioura is the Japanese and Asian record-holder in the 50 free and has been a consistent presence on the world sprint stage. At age 29, he appears to still be developing his speed, with his career-best 50 free coming in 2019.
#90: Ji Xinjie, China – Ji is a 23-year-old with incredible freestyle range. In 2019, he went 1:45.4 and 3:45.6 in the 200 and 400 frees, respectively. But he’s also won international medals into the 800 and 1500 frees, and could have opportunities for multiple Olympic finals with a good 2021.
#89: Katsumi Nakamura, Japan – Nakamura is an outstanding 100 freestyler, and in the pretty elite company of swimmers who have been 47-point. He’s never won an individual medal at Worlds or the Olympics, but should have a shot at the 100 free final in front of his home nation in Tokyo this year.
#88: Kirill Martynychev, Russia – Just 18 years old, Martynychev is a rising distance swimmer who won the 1500 free at the European Junior Championships in 2019. He’s on the cusp of breaking 15 minutes in that race, and is sub-8:00 in the 800 which should offer two shots at an Olympic final.
#87: Thomas Neill, Australia – Australia’s Neill won three distance free medals at World Juniors in 2019. This past year, he set the world junior record in the short course 400 free with a 3:38.0. Neill is just 18 and rising fast, and he also benefits from the inclusion of the 800 free in the Olympic program.
#86: Jordan Wilimovsky, United States – a dual threat between pool and open water swimming, Wilimovsky is one of 20 swimmers already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the open water 10K. He’s also a solid contender to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 1500, if he wants to repeat his 2016 status as a pool/open water Olympian.
#85: Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia – Stubblety-Cook is part of a crowd of guys who have been 2:07-low in the 200 breast. That’s his prime medal opportunity. But the Australian also just broke a minute in the 100 breast last month, so his speed is definitely developing.
#84: Luke Greenbank, Great Britain – a former youth standout, Great Britain’s Greenbank was the 2019 World Champs bronze medalist in the 200 back. He had a nice 2020 in short course meters and keeps improving in both the 100 and 200 backs. The men’s backstrokes are brutally crowded, but Greenbank has as good a shot at a medal as anyone outside of the top few names.
#83: Yasuhiro Koseki, Japan – Koseki is an excellent breaststroker across all three distances, and between both long course and short course. He’s the Japanese record-holder in the 100 breast, and went 58 in both 2018 and 2019 before hitting a career-best in short course meters in 2020. He appears to have turned his focus a bit away from the 200 breast, though, and Japan’s depth there will probably make him just a one-event Olympic final contender.
#82: Franko Grgic, Croatia – Grgic will turn 18 this month, and is probably a little under-discussed after a quiet 2020. He broke a world junior record in the 1500 free, going 14:46 at the age of 16 while winning a World Juniors gold medal in 2019. He was 6th in the world that year for swimmers of all ages, and in 2020, only Gregorio Paltrinieri bettered Grgic’s time.
#81: Thomas Ceccon, Italy – another former youth standout, Ceccon is making his mark at the senior level for Italy. Most notable was probably his national-record 52.8 in the 100 back this year, but Ceccon is also a great freestyler (48.6) who feels on the cusp of a big international breakout this year.
#80: Zane Grothe, United States – Grothe had an incredible run from late 2017 through the summer of 2018 in both short course and long course. His distance free times stalled a little in 2019 and 2020, but he’s still one of the frontrunners to make the U.S. Olympic team, and he has good speed down to the 200/400 range.
#79: Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy – a former youth standout, Martinenghi missed some time in 2018 due to a groin injury. He’s fully returned to form, though, knocking down best times in 2020 in the 100 breast (58.7) and 50 breast (26.5). Martinenghi is also a solid ISL scorer in addition to an Olympic medal contender in the 100 breast.
#78: Blake Pieroni, United States – Pieroni is a relay stalwart with 13 Olympic/Worlds medals over his career, but none of them individual. He faces a stiff challenge to make the U.S. Olympic team in an individual event, after splitting 47.4 and 47.3 at 2019 Worlds, it’s clear he’s helping elevate those medal-winning relays, not just tagging along for the ride. He was also #53 in ISL scoring for 2020.
#77: Michael Andrew, United States – ever a polarizing swimming figure, Andrew is just too good and too versatile to rank any lower than this. The Olympic format (without stroke 50s) limits his medal upside a little, but Andrew is still a contender to make Olympic finals in any of the 50 free, 100 breast, and 200 IM, among others. He’s also a former short course world champ in the 100 IM and should have big impacts in the ISL and at Short Course Worlds in 2021, if he can get his training on track.
#76: Jacob Heidtmann, Germany – the 26-year-old Heidtmann was a pretty consistent scorer in the ISL in 2020. But he also finished 2020 as the world’s #4-ranked long course 400 IMer. With 2016 Olympic experience already under his belt, Heidtmann has a chance to medal in 2020.