Jared Anderson contributed to this report
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.
WOMEN’S #100 – #76
The first batch of our top 100 are contenders for minor medals at the Olympic and long course World Champs level, including some of the standouts in short course meters who have proven valuable in arenas like the International Swimming League.
#100: Kate Douglass, USA – Douglass seems to be on the precipice of a long course breakout. We already know she’s deadly in every stroke in yards (49-point fly, 51-high back, 59-mid breast, 46-high free, 1:50.9 IM is wild, not to mention 2:03 breast, 1:56 fly, 1:44 free), but the LCM is starting to come through. In November 2020, she broke 25 in the 50m free (24.99), posted a 55.2 100 free and 57.4 100 fly, while she’s been strong in IM and breast, too. Based on her progression in yards already this season, she could very quickly become a medal threat in the 100 fly, though that isn’t a surefire bet by any means.
#99: Erika Fairweather, New Zealand – A 2003-born distance star, Fairweather could be New Zealand’s best shot at a medal on the women’s side, with 2019 bests of 55.6/1:57.9/4:08.
#98: Mary-Sophie Harvey, Canada – Harvey swims all the events you wouldn’t want to race as an age grouper, toting a 4:36 in the 400 IM and a 1:57 200 free in long course. It’s been several years since she’s gone bests in LCM, but she did show positive signs with SCM bests in the 200 free, 50 back, 200 fly, 100 IM and 200 IM during the 2020 ISL season.
#97: Emma Weyant, USA – A breakout 2019 saw Weyant claim the U.S. Summer Nationals title in the 400 IM with a 4:35.47, a huge performance for her first time under 4:40. The 2021 400 IM field is murky, and Katinka Hosszu certainly doesn’t have the kind of lead over the rest of the world like she did in previous years, when a Hosszu IM win was as certain as the sky was blue.
#96: Madison Wilson, Australia – Days before the pandemic hit Australia, Wilson had an incredible meet at the New South Wales Open Championships, logging lifetime bests in LCM in the 50 free (24.74), 100 free (53.50) and 200 free (1:56.60). Wilson first came up as backstroker, making the 2016 Australian Olympic team in the 100 back individually and making the final, but she might be an Aussie qualifier in 2021 in a free event this year.
#95: Svetlana Chimrova, Russia – Chimrova holds Russian records in both butterfly events, and she’s a true double-distance fly threat, though her 57.17 is from 2017 and her 2:07.33 from 2018.
#94: Brianna Throssell, Australia – With a very similar skillset to both Wilson (two spots above) and McLaughlin (below), she’s like McLaughlin in that she was primarily known for her 200 fly, but her 100/200 free and 100 fly have progressed further in the last few years. Throssel was 1:55.6 with a flying start on Australia’s winning 4×200 free relay at 2019 Worlds.
#93: Katie McLaughlin, USA – McLaughlin has made the U.S. roster for three different long course summer championships since 2015. She swam the 200 fly at 2015 Worlds, the 100 fly, 100 free and 200 free at 2018 Pan Pacs and the 100 fly at 2019 Worlds. Over the last few years, her 200 free has become her most potent event, and an out-of-championships 1:56.48 PR in June 2019 makes her a candidate for an individual 200 free spot on Team USA in Tokyo. She was also 1:55.3 with a flying start for Team USA on the 4×200 in 2019.
#92: Merve Tuncel, Turkey – At 15, Tuncel broke four Turkish records in the span of a week in late 2020. She’s been 4:06/8:28/16:03 in long course meters, climbing the world rankings, and her 4:06 in the 400 free, for context, would rank her third in the U.S. 15-16 age group behind only Katie Ledecky and Janet Evans.
#91: Melanie Henique, France – Henique was on fire in December, claiming French records in long course in the 50 free (24.34) and 50 fly (25.24). She was top 50 in the ISL Season MVP Rankings in the fall, too.
#90: Siobhan Marie O’Connor, GBR – O’Connor is one of the best swimmers in British history, and we can’t forget that she blasted a 2:06.8 in the 200 IM at the 2016 Olympics to take silver behind the Iron Lady. She hasn’t been nearly as good since then, though.
#89: Marie Wattel, France – Wattel is a strong sprinter, and she was 10th out of all women (18th overall) in the 2020 ISL Season MVP Rankings. Her 57.00 in the 100 fly in long course has her ninth in the world since January 1, 2017.
#88: Kelsey Wog, Canada – Wog was a huge contributor during the 2020 ISL season, ranking 20th overall in the MVP rankings. Her 2:22.8 long course best in the 200 breast puts her in a solid position, as nobody has been under 2:20 for more than three years.
#87: Maria Kameneva, Russia – The fastest 50 and 100 freestyler in Russian history, Kameneva has been 24.21 in the 50 and 53.45 in the 100. At 2019 Worlds, she was fifth in the 50 free (24.31), just two-tenths from the podium.
#86: Beata Nelson, USA – The #8-ranked female swimmer for the ISL season, Nelson’s SCM abilities are quite impressive. Racing fly, back and IM at various meets for the Cali Condors, Nelson’s underwaters are absurd, and her sprint versatility in almost every discipline is a huge asset in the ISL setup. Should her LCM come around, Nelson is probably a medal threat in both backstrokes and the 200 IM, but we haven’t seen her develop in the big pool yet.
#85: Abbie Wood, GBR – Wood was a bright spot on a lackluster New York Breakers roster during the 2020 ISL season, and she was top 40 in the MVP rankings, just three spots down from fellow IM’er Katinka Hosszu. Her 2:11/4:37 IM in LCM could get hacked down after she torched SMOC’s 200 IM British record during ISL competition with an SCM 2:04.77.
#84: Anastasia Gorbenko, Israel – It certainly feels like the Israeli wunderkind is on the verge of greatness. At 15, she secured long course Israeli records in the 50 back, 200 breast and 200 IM, and before she turned 17 she added national marks in the 100 back and 400 IM. Since turning 17, she’s added SCM national records in the 50 free, 100 back, 50 breast, 100 breast, 100 IM, 200 IM and 400 IM, the latter five coming during the 2020 ISL season. An all-around talent, Gorbenko has the makings of a truly elite IMer.
#83: Anastasia Kirpichnikova, Russia – Kirpichnikova came careening onto the world stage in December, when she smashed Russian records in the 800 free (8:22.65) and 1500 free (15:53.18). She’s one of a few lurkers in the distance events who could surprise for a minor medal with a huge swim on the big stage.
#82: Delfina Pignatiello, Argentina – With a thunderous 15:51.68 in 2019, Pignatiello is a front-runner, alongside Kirpichnikova, for a medal in the 1500. The South American record holder is the sixth-fastest woman in the world since Rio in the 1500 free.
#81: Elena Di Liddo, Italy – The Italian record-holder in the 100 fly (57.04), Di Liddo was edged out of the 100 fly bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships by four-tenths.
#80: Reona Aoki, Japan – Aoki dropped a 1:05.9/2:21 LCM combo in the breaststroke events in 2018, though she hasn’t beaten her times in long course since then. Still, she was great in the ISL season, including SCM times of 1:04/2:20, and she finished fourth in the 100 breast at the 2019 World Championships.
#79: Madisyn Cox, USA – The women’s 200 IM will be a gauntlet to get through just to make the American 2021 Olympic team. Cox, though, is a great racer who has a bronze medal in this event from the 2017 World Championships. She’s also quite good at the 200m free and 200m breast, and would be a dangerous ISL swimmer (though her fall med school plans would probably keep her out of that conversation).
#78: Anna Hopkin, GBR – Since finishing college in the States at the University of Arkansas with British coach Neil Harper, Hopkin has really elevated her game. A great sprint presence for the London Roar in the ISL, Hopkin was part of three British SCM relay records from 2019. She made the 2019 World Champs final in the 50 free, and just missed the 100 free final after going the third-fastest time in prelims.
#77: Bethany Galat, United States – One of the best American 200 breaststrokers of this Olympic cycle, Galat won the 2017 World Champs silver in this event. Her 2:21.77 from that swim still has her at the #5 performer in this event since Rio, and while she missed the 2019 Worlds team (she was edged by Micah Sumrall and Lilly King at Pan Pacs, the last qualifier meet for Worlds), she’s been 2:21.84 since 2017. Further, she won silver at the 2018 SCM World Champs, silver at the 2019 Pan Am Games (behind another American, Annie Lazor) and was ranked sixth in the 200 breast for the 2020 ISL season.
#76: Emily Seebohm, Australia – The ridiculously talented young backstrokers worldwide have crowded the field for Seebohm, who was a force at the 2012 Olympics during Missy Franklin’s debut days. She’s been no slouch since then, though; she won gold in the 100 back at the 2015 World Champs, silver at the 2017 Worlds and silver at the 2018 Pan Pacs. Seebohm was also a great ISL talent this past season, ranked T-24th overall in the MVP rankings, one slot ahead of American Michael Andrew.