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. 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.
As we crack into our top 50, we’re starting to see some themes arise in this next batch of ten swimmers. A number of these guys are one-event standouts, but in events where there’s already another clear gold medal favorite. That forces a tough balance between swimmers with a high likelihood of a single silver or bronze medal vs swimmers with a lower probability, but perhaps a higher ceiling of multiple medals.
#50: Felipe Lima, Brazil –Lima was a 2019 World Champs silver medalist, but in a non-Olympic event (50 breast). He’s a decent long course 100 breaststroker, though, and a good ISL scorer.
#49: Andrew Seliskar, United States – internationally, Seliskar has mostly been confined to the 200 free, where he’s won a handful of relay medals. But Seliskar had a great 2020 in the short course IMs and could see his NCAA versatility start showing up on the world stage with a good 2021.
#48: Vladimir Morozov, Russia – the Russian sprint king had a pretty lackluster 2020 in the ISL, but that appeared to be at least partly fueled by a lack of pool access during the pandemic. Morozov is still a high-level sprinter in multiple strokes, and should be an ISL/World Cup force in 2021.
#47: Wang Shun, China – Wang was the Rio Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 IM, and finished 2020 ranked #2 worldwide in the 200 IM and #3 in the 400 IM. The men’s IMs look fairly open in the post-Phelps era, and Wang maybe has one of the higher multi-gold-medal ceilings of anyone in this range.
#46: Luca Urlando, United States – college freshman Urlando has been a rising butterfly star for the past several years, and the stars are seeming to align for a solid Olympic run this year. A dislocated shoulder sidelined Urlando for a time last year, but the Olympic delay gave him even more time to get healthy and to train with a Georgia staff well-acquainted with putting swimmers on the Olympic team.
#45: Tamas Kenderesi, Hungary – Kenderesi ranked second worldwide in the 200 fly in both 2019 and 2020. That included a big win over world record-holder Kristof Milak at Hungarian Nationals in December. Both Urlando and Kenderesi face tall tasks to win gold, but should be top medal contenders in the 200 fly.
#44: Mehdy Metella, France – Metella was 4th in the world with a 50.85 in the 100 fly back in 2019, and at one point was 47.6 in the 100 free, though that was 2017 and he’s fallen out of medal contention there since.
#43: Yan Zibei, China – Yan is one of the best breaststrokers on the planet. The only reason he falls out of the top 40 is that he’s pretty much a one-event Olympic threat, and that event has a clear-cut gold medal favorite ahead of him. The #7-ranked 100 breaststroker of all-time, Yan should be a strong candidate for a minor medal.
#42: Shaine Casas, United States – Casas could very well have surged even higher on this list with a more normal 2020. He was in line for some smash performances at the canceled NCAA Championships, and was really starting to pop in long course backstroke. Making the Olympic team might be his toughest test, but Casas has a legitimate shot at an Olympic medal if he can make the team.
#41: James Guy, Great Britain – Guy was the 2015 world champ in the 200 free, but has never surpassed the 1:45.14 he went to win that gold medal more than five years ago. He’s more recently surged in the 100 fly, though the 200 free is now looking much more open at the Olympic level than the fly.