SwimSwam’s Top 100 for 2021: Men’s #75 – #51

by Robert Gibbs 40

January 28th, 2021 International, News

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.

See also:

Men’s #75 – #51

In some ways, this list looks very similar to #100-76, and sure, there are probably arguments to be made for a few of those swimmers displacing some on this list; as we’ve tried to emphasize, this isn’t an exact science. 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.

The other group we see a lot on this list are freestyle specialists who may not get a shot at an individual Olympic swim, but should be in contention for medals on both freestyle relays. 

#75: Noe Ponti, Switzerland – The Swiss Butterly specialist hit lifetime bests in the 100m and 200m fly events this year, including a 51.15 in the 100 that should make him a strong contender for the Olympic final.

#74: Ilia Borodin, Russia – The 17 year-old IMer may still a little away from being a definite medal contender, but he closed 2020 strong, setting Russian national records in the 200 IM (1:58.0) and the 400 IM (4:11.50). The latter mark is officially a World Junior Record, and only Michael Phelps and Kosuke Hagino have been faster at 18 or young.

#73: Nandor Nemeth Hungary – Three years ago, Nemeth made his mark at the 2017 World Junior Swimming Championships by anchoring Hungary to gold medals in the 4×100 and 4×200. With lifetime bests of 48.1/1:46.7, he’s the first guy on this list to be one of the aforementioned double relay medal threats.

#72: Federico Burdisso, Italy – Only 18 years old, Burdisso is the Italian national record holder in the long course 200 fly, and having gone 1:54 now on three separate occasions, he should be a minor medal threat at the Olympics. 

#71: Joao Gomes, Brazil – Now 35, Gomes’ only individual hardware at the last two World Championships has come in the 50 breast, but he’s no slouch at the 100, having won bronze at Pan Pacs and gold at Pan Ams with 59-mid both times.

#70: Phillip Heintz, Germany – The veteran IMer ended 2020 on a high note, busting out a time-trialed 1:56.42 in December, not far off of his lifetime best of 1:55.76 in 2017, and he’s one of several

#69: Kiril Prigoda, Russia – Known a little more for the shorter breaststroke events in long course (he won bronze in the 100m at 2017 Worlds), Prigoda busted out a 2:07.85 to upset defending world champion Anton Chupkov at the Russian Swimming Cup this past October. 

#68: Nathan Adrian, United States – Not going to lie, it kind of hurts to see the London 100 free gold medalist this low. But the USA has seen a massive explosion in his signature event over the couple of years and objectively, there’s a chance that Adrian could not even make the team, but the Americans sure hope he does, as he’s been a rock solid contributor for the last decade.

#67: Bobby Finke United States – Finke’s potential has been clear for years, but he rose to new heights when he swam the fastest 1650 ever at the SEC Championships last February. He’s no slouch in long course, where he’s been 14:48 in the 1500m.

#66: Alexander Graham, Australia – Much in the same mold as Apple, Graham has become a solid relay swimmer for the Aussies, swimming on both the 4×100 and 4×200 relays at both the 2018 Pan Pacs and the 2019 World Champs, splitting a 1:45.05 on the 4×200 at the latter. 

#65: Tom Dean, Great Britain – Despite all the weirdness of the year, Dean had a great 2020 in the pool, hitting 1:46.03 at the Edinburgh International meet to become the 4th-fastest British 200 free swimmer ever. He also won the 400m free at the ISL final, being out a field that included Townley Haas, Fernando Scheffer, and James Guy. 

#64: Zach Apple, United States – Apple has been a relay stalwart for the US over the last few years, including a 46.86 split on the gold medal 4×100 free relay in Gwangju. 

#63: Alessandro Miressi, Italy – The 2018 Euros champion in the 100 free, his time of 48.01 probably won’t medal this summer, but at 22, he still has time to peak, and he’s part of Italy’s sneaky-good relays.

#62: Ryan Held, United States – Held has up-and-down time of it over the last few years. He had a memorable moment on the podium after being part of the USA’s gold medal 4×100 free relay team, then struggled for a few years, then set the U.S. Open record in the 100 free with his 47..4 in the summer of 2019.

#61: Emre Sacki, Turkey – Our 2020 Swammy Award winner for breakout swimmer of the year, Sakci had a lights out ISL season that saw him swim the 2nd-fastest short course 50m breaststroke ever, behind only Cameron Van Der Burgh’s super suited time from 2009.

#60: Kieran Smith, United States – Smith had one of the biggest domestic swims of 2020 with his 4:06 500 free. Smith already had a solid long course pedigree, and if he can translate that SCY prowess into long course, he could make us look silly for ranking him so low.

#59: Vladislav Grinev, Russia – With a lifetime best of 47.4 and a broze medal from 2019, he’ll be in the running for another medal this summer.  He’s also an impact member of Russia medal-threat 4×100 free relay team, where he’s split 47.2.

#58: Katsuhiro Matsumoto, Japan – The 23 year-old shaved a tenth off of his own Japanese national record earlier this month, putting up a 1:45.1, and given how wide open the 200 free looks right now, he’s definitely in the medal hunt, and could even pop off for gold. He’s also got a sub-48 relay split to his name.

#57: Martin Malyutin, Russia – One a small handful of swimmers who has a lifetime best of 1:45-something in the 200 free, he will once again be shooting for for multiple medal after winning bronze at 2019 Worlds and swimming on Russia’s 4×200 relay.

#56: Max Litchfield, Great Britain – Litchfield had a few near-misses on major IM medals, including a 4th place finish in the 400 IM in Rio, then a pair of 4th place finishes in both IM at 2017 Worlds. He’s the 400 IM British national record holder with a lifetime best of 4:09.62.

#55: Lewis Clareburt, New Zealand – The national 400 IM record holder, Clareburt’s best time of 4:12.07 isn’t eye-popping, but he is on the right trajectory and does have a steady track record of getting it done when it counts; he earned bronze medals in the event at both the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2019 World Championships.

#54: Jay Litherland, United States – He’s already an Olympic veteran, and he was one of a handful of US swimmers to hit personal bests at 2019 Worlds. His 4:09.22 best in the 400 IM puts him well ahead of any US swimmer not named Chase Kalisz. 

#53: Ben Proud, Great Britain – He’s been relatively quiet in long course over the last few years, but he set a then-textile record of 21.11 in the 50 free less than three years ago. He also had more trouble than most of the world’s elite swimmers finding training space during the pandemic, which is probably at least partially responsible for his relatively lackluster ISL season. Still only 26, Proud should still very much be in the medal hunt in the shortest and fastest Olympic race.

#52: Jeremy Desplanches, Switzerland – The 200 IM looks to be one of the more open events at the world level, and Desplanches, who earned silver in Gwangju with a Swiss national record of 1:56.56, is definitely a medal threat. 

#51: Marco Koch, Germany – Koch won gold in the 200 breast in Kazan, then was was Euros 200 breast silver medalist in 2016. He’d been fairly quiet since then, but had a very strong ISL season in 2020, including the 5th-fastest 200 breast (SCM) ever.

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Hswimmer
7 months ago

How are finke and Apple ahead of Adrian

Waader
Reply to  Hswimmer
7 months ago

Because Apple has a serious chance of being on the finals team of 3 gold medal winning relays (400 fr, 800fr and 400mr) and Adrian doesn’t.

Honestly the real question is: Why Held ahead of Apple? They have an equal shot (imo) of making the 100 free individually and Apple has a good shot at making the 800 free relay. Held’s best second shot is the 50 free, where he really isn’t all that great.

Finke has a good shot at the 800/1500 at trials double, but I’m not 100% convinced.

Last edited 7 months ago by Waader
Khachaturian
Reply to  Waader
7 months ago

Probably because Held has a better flat start time than Apple. However I I think they will both earn a spot on the relay. Moreover I can see them both splitting 46 highs if they are at their best. The 4 x 100 freestyle world record might be broken.

Admin
Reply to  Hswimmer
7 months ago

Remember that this is a FORWARD-looking list. Adrian has been a great swimmer for many years, but at some point, a younger generation rolls in and takes over.

Rafael
7 months ago

Robert, you forgot Hagino 4:08:94 from 2012 Olympics when he was 18 (Your Description About Borodin said he was the only one faster than Phelps at 18&U)

Goag
Reply to  Rafael
7 months ago

Laszlo Cseh was faster as well at the 2003 Worlds (4:10.79) 5 months before his 18th birthday.
Also Daiya Seto has a 4:10.1 from 2012 according to FINA’s database.

Rafael
Reply to  Goag
7 months ago

Actually Phelps was 4:09:09 at 18 (2003 world). So only Hagino was faster

Mr. Know it all
7 months ago

“Prigoda, known for the shorter breaststroke events”. Kind of weird to read that, given he is the SCM world record holder in the 200!

Last edited 7 months ago by Mr. Know it all
Crk
Reply to  Mr. Know it all
7 months ago

Yeah “shorter events long course” not really his strength

swammer
7 months ago

Desplanches 20 places ahead of Heintz? Heintz not only has a faster best time by almost a second but also went faster in a time trial last month than Desplanches has ever been

whever
Reply to  swammer
7 months ago

Desplanches was the silver medalist in Gwangju in 2019. Heintz never medaled at LCM Worlds. He failed several times to repeat his in-season performances at the major summer meet.

swammer
Reply to  whever
7 months ago

good point! agree with you when it comes to showing up when it matters

AnEn
Reply to  whever
7 months ago

Heintz is a really curious case. At the 2016 olympics noone expected anything from him, but he almost won a medal. In 2017 he was a serious (gold) medal contender and failed. Maybe he can’t deal with the pressure.

Europeanswimfan
Reply to  swammer
7 months ago

Remember also: Desplanches beats Heintz at the Glasgow Europeans 2018.

CRD
7 months ago

Pretty sure Miressi became a Euros champ in 2018, not in 2019 right?

Joe
7 months ago

Why is Martin Malyutin above Matsumoto, when the latter has a faster personal best, and finished ahead in the 2019 Worlds? Is it age? Matsumoto is only two years older…

I know it’s only one spot difference, but given that these two actually swim the same events, it’s easier to compare them.

THEO
7 months ago

I had never heard of Ilia Borodin but 1:58.0/4:11 is WILD for a 17 year old. The extra buffer year from covid could certainly work in his favor…

leisurely1:29
7 months ago

Kieran Smith is MASSIVELY under-ranked in this list. Easily top 30 swimmers right now in terms of overall ability and range, just hasn’t gotten his chance to shine yet. Just think what he would have done in the months after that 4:06, and look at his progression since then.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  leisurely1:29
7 months ago

Gonna have to disagree on this one. 60 seems fine with me. There is potential certainly but I would need more actual LCM swims to move him above 60.

AnEn
Reply to  leisurely1:29
7 months ago

I think he is massively overrated. He hasn’t shown anything at world level so far. If you go by potential, then how the hell is he ranked ahead of Borodin who is much closer to a medal right now. So far a lot of american swimmers have been massively overrated. I don’t get why Finke is ranked (that highly). Finke is ranked ahead of Burdisso, although Burdisso has been much closer to a medal and is even younger than Finke as far as i know.

Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

I think the argument for Smith and Finke are that they smashed SCY records recently, and given that this is a prediction for 2021, they likely are going to have some incredible swims internationally this year. You could say that short course doesn’t transfer over well to long course, which I would agree with largely, but Finke and Smith train with a program that has historically produced incredible long course swimmers.

Looking at just their times, Borodin at 1:58/4:11, while closer to a medal, I might not think more impressive than Smith with 4:06 and Finke 14:48. While there is a lot of bias towards American swimmers, I think it’s mostly the SwimSwam writers hoping for a long course… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
AnEn
Reply to  Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
7 months ago

Finke broke the 1650 free record by Grothe by 6 seconds. Grothe swam 14:48 long course that same year. Even if you think that Finke will be 6 seconds faster long course as well, he would still only be at 14:42 which still wouldn’t be nearly enough to medal. On the other hand a guy like Grgić who is much younger than Finke and has already been much faster long course is ranked much lower. Objectively that ranking just doesn’t make any sense and there is no point in trying to justify it. Just say that it is mainly down to wishful thinking from an american perspective and noone will have a problem with it.

Smith broke the 500 free… Read more »

maverick1993
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

agreed. Finke higher than Grgic is just not justifiable lol.

ClubCoach
Reply to  Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
7 months ago

Finke’s last truly tapered 1500 was at Pa Pacs in 2018.