SwimSwam’s Top 100 for 2021: Women’s #20-11

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.

See also:

Women’s #11-20

This group of 10 women are getting into serious medal contenders for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It becomes the interesting meeting-ground of some of the greats of their generation, like Katinka Hosszu or Federica Pellegrini, who are now into their 30s, with young rising swimmers like Minna Atherton and Simona Quadarella, who could be breakthrough stars in Tokyo.

#20: Minna Atherton, Australia – At only 20 years old, Atherton has already been through the full rollercoaster. After breaking a short course meters World Record in the 100 backstroke in the first season of ISL, she roared to the top of the mountain of women’s backstroke as the obvious next challenger to American Regan Smith. But then her own countrymate Kaylee McKeown, only 19, rushed up that mountain as well. The women’s backstrokers are going to be absolutely brutal in Tokyo (it feels like we’re saying this every year). Atherton still hasn’t really shown the long course mettle yet of the swimmers ahead of her, though she did go a 50 free best in 2020 (25.72). In any other generation, Atherton might be higher, but in this one, with this backstroke field, she might be 58-low/2:05 and still miss a medal.

#19: Yui Ohashi, Japan – The 25-year old Ohashi won a bronze medal in the 400 IM at the 2019 World Championships, and is a viable 400 IM candidate at the Tokyo Olympic Games – especially in front of a home crowd. There’s a big stratification in the women’s 400 IM – The top 3 in the world (all in this grouping – including Hosszu and Ye) are ahead of the world on a big gap from the rest of the world (a group that includes the two Canadians, Sydney Pickrem and Emily Overholt). Ohashi had a strong ISL season as well, so there’s no signs that the pandemic has slowed her down. The one swimmer to throw a wrench in is Melanie Margalis, who swam 4:32 in Des Moines heading into quarantines.

#18: Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong – At the 2019 World Championships, Haughey finished 4th in the 200 free. One of the trio ahead of her was Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom – who with a broken elbow, might be able to get back into some 50 or 100 form by Tokyo, but who almost certainly won’t be racing the 200. That puts Haughey in a firm medal position – without even considering the number and magnitude of best times she’s swum in short course since then, leaving her now as the #2 performer in SCM history (behind only Sjostrom). The women’s 200 free doesn’t have an obvious contender who’s going to go 1:53 low and run away with it, but there could be a whole lot of 1:54s in the field in Tokyo. Haughey’s ISL-sharpened racing skills will serve her well in a close race. She’s an outside shot at a 100 free medal too – a race that has had some unexpected podiums at several recent major meets.

#17: Kylie Masse, Canada – The World Record holder in the 100 back before Kathleen Baker, and still only 25, Masse is in the same boat as Baker (see below). The biggest difference? She doesn’t have the third event to pivot to like Baker does. That being said, she’s still the two-time defending World Champion in the 100 backstroke (though Regan Smith didn’t swim that event individually in Gwangju). Her 200 backstroke, where she won bronze in 2019, really has been coming along nicely as well. She has the benefit of not needing to battle through a grueling June trials meet to make her national team, as she’s already been pre-selected by Canada. On the other hand, racing opportunities in Canada have been few-and-far-between. Still, that didn’t hurt her in the ISL season – where she was outstanding as the top scorer for the expansion Toronto Titans franchise. Masse finished the regular season ranked 14th in MVP scoring league-wide.

#16: Federica Pellegrini, Italy – Pellegrini is kind of like the Simone Manuel of the 200 free: you keep picking against her, she keeps winning, and at some point that has to be recognized. The two-time defending World Champion and the World Record holder, Pellegrini has to be the favorite in the 200 free for Tokyo – even if the signs want us to all believe differently: age, motivation, just a 1:59.0 in her last race in Geneva, Switzerland. Pellegrini was a history-maker in Italian swimming. She was the country’s youngest Olympic medalist in any sport in 2004. She was the country’s first female Olympic gold medalist in swimming. She’s the only Italian swimmer to have set World Records in more than one event. She’s already enshrined in gold in the history books of Italian sport and culture: if she ends her career with one more Olympic gold medal, they may well crown her queen in Italy.

#15: Emma McKeon, Australia – When last we saw the 26-year old McKeon race internationally, it was the 2019 ISL season and she was among the league’s best. It appeared as though McKeon was perched and prepared to emerge from her status of racking up relay medals at major meets to emerging from the shadows of the Campbell sisters as a standalone star. Australia didn’t get to compete in season 2 of the ISL, but there’s signs that the momentum continued anyway. In March, just before lockdowns began, she swam 56.36 in the 100 fly, which was her best time since the 2017 World Championships. She also swam 52.46 in the 100 free in December, which was just .05 seconds short of her best time.

#14: Kathleen Baker, United States – Baker was one of the hardest swimmers to place in this ranking. On the one hand, until Regan Smith’s outburst at the 2019 World Championships, Baker was the World Record holder in the 100 backstroke (58.00). On the other hand, a youth explosion has now seen two teenagers go under that 58.00 – Regan Smith and Kaylee McKeown, with another American teen Phoebe Bacon nipping at her heels. On the third hand, Baker herself is still only 23 – entering traditional primetime for international swimmers. And on the fourth hand, Baker seems to have seen the writing on the wall and really begun focusing hard on her 200 IM, where a February 2020 2:08 in France set off some serious sirens. And that is why we’ve left Baker so high, in spite of the challengers ahead. She now looks like a probable 200 IM medalist, with the ‘upside’ of plausible backstroke medals to boot.

#13: Ye Shiwen, China – At only 24-years old, Ye is already going to her 3rd Olympic Games. After her huge 200 IM/400 IM double gold in London in 2012, Ye faded from sight for a few years but has re-emerged as again one of the world’s best. She won silvers in both IM races at the 2019 World Championships, plus was 4th in the 200 breaststroke. If Hosszu doesn’t find her form, Ye is in line for not only a double gold medal finish, but a possible three medal finish.

#12: Simona Quadarella, Italy – Quadarella was among the swimmers who benefited from Katie Ledecky’s illness at the 2019 World Championships, snagging gold in the women’s 1500 free. But the context of that swim, with a silver in the 800 free and a 2017 bronze in the 1500 free to boot, shouldn’t dissuade from understanding that Quadarella is the world’s second-best female distance swimmer right now. While we don’t get to see Ledecky race much this day, in any sort of proper form she’s going to dominate the 800 and 1500 freestyle events, and we know that. On paper, though, Quadarella is the favorite for silver in both of those races.

#11: Katinka Hosszu, Hungary – Arguably the best female swimmer of the 2010s, and inarguably one of the top 3, Hosszu is the double defending World Champion in the 200 IM and 400 IM. But I’ll admit that we were chilled a little by her ISL performance. We know Hungarians were back in the water for a while prior to the start of that season, and yet Hosszu really struggled – in a format that she should dominate. She hasn’t been her former in-season dominant self in long course either – at her most recent meet in Nice, she swam 2:13.8 in the 200 IM, 1:01.8 in the 100 fly, 4:42 in the 400 IM, and 2:13.3 in the 200 back. All we really know that this means for sure is that Hosszu isn’t her same win-everything-all-the-time self that we’ve seen in prior iterations. She still swam at least one round of a whopping 11 events at that meet, she just didn’t do it as well as we’ve seen her do it in the past. Do I still think she’ll win at least two medals in Tokyo? Definitely, because she’s still that versatile. But I don’t think we can declare her a lock for any gold medals based on recent evidence.

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Togger
19 days ago

I like Katinka, but she is not arguably the top female swimmer of the 2010s.

There is no argument to be had. It’s Ledecky.

Jack
Reply to  Togger
19 days ago

In your opinion. Let them speculate.

PeatyPiper
Reply to  Togger
19 days ago

I am arguing with you that Ledecky is not the top female swimmer of the 2010s over Hosszu.

There, now it is a fact that there is an argument to be had.

Skoorbnagol
Reply to  Togger
19 days ago

Disagree, her dominance is equal to Ledecky over a range of events. He world cups, European, worlds and Olympic have been just as impressive as Katie:
If Katinka was America and Ledecky was Hungarian, it would be a different discussion.

Gable
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
18 days ago

I put zero weight on the World Cups in which Hosszu participated. She had minimal competition, and not because she was dominant. But because she was the only swimmer traveling from city to city (with a spouse coach), at a time when few high-quality international swimmers had the monetary resources or the inclination to participate in that scene. Ledecky and others smashed Hosszu’s pre-Shane Tusup NCAA 400 IM and other records.

Pat J
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
18 days ago

Yes, right, Katinka has been quite shy in promoting herself internationally.

AnEn
Reply to  Togger
19 days ago

I agree (because Hosszu was dominant for a shorter period of time), but for me Hosszu had the highest peak (being a gold medal contender in 5 events).

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Togger
19 days ago

There’s definitely an argument. I could prolly be swayed either way tbh.

Ledecky’s margin over the field was pretty insane, but Hosszu wasn’t exactly winning by hundredths either.

Thomas V
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

Ledecky broke three long-standing World Records set by three different swimmers in the 400 Free (Pellegrini), the 800 Free (Adlington), and the 1500 Free (Ziegler)–so much for the “historically very high overlap” in those events,

N P
Reply to  Thomas V
18 days ago

You can’t look at only the last WR-holders to see if there’s “historically very high overlap”. For almost twenty years right before all three records were held by Janet Evans. There are several swimmers who have won the 400 & 800 at the same Olympics (Adlington & Bennet recently) and it’s not that unusual at Worlds for the podiums in 400-800-1500 to be largely similar.

Marty
Reply to  N P
18 days ago

You happen to be wrong. If you actually examine the podiums at the 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011 Worlds (pre-Ledecky) in the 400-800-1500, there were 8 different women for the 12 podium spots across the 4 meets for the 400 Free, 8 different women for the 12 podium spots for the 800 Free, and 7 different women for the 12 podium spots in the 1500 Free, and little correlation in those events within each Worlds competition. There were women such as Pellegrini and Joanne Jackson who were good in the 400 Fr, but were not competitive at longer distances (sort of like Titmus today), and there were women like Ziegler and Friis who were good at 800-1500, but did not… Read more »

Pete
Reply to  Marty
18 days ago

Agree, you can count on one finger the number of swimmers who have swum the 100-200-400-800-1500 Frees (and 400 IM SCY) as effectively as Ledecky over the course of more than ten years, and I will give you one guess as to which finger.

M D E
Reply to  Pete
18 days ago

Janet Evans is a comparable (you could argue she was better given she also had the 400 IM LCM) swimmer for her era.

Swim Fandom
Reply to  M D E
18 days ago

Fortunately I have lived long enough to see both Evans and Ledecky swim in-person in their primes.Janet Evans did not win an Olympic 200 m free, 18 World Championship gold medals and did not anchor numerous 4×200 m and 4 x100 m World Champs and Olympic medal-winning relays for Team USA. Didn’t have the speed. Evans’ 400 IM LCM and SCY PBs not in same zip code as Ledecky’s. Ledecky’s times and range far superior to Evans’, and Ledecky has swum in an era of much-expanded international competition.

M d e
Reply to  Swim Fandom
18 days ago

It’s a different era. Swimmer longevity is a different universe than it was back then.

Hence why I said for her era.

Janet Evans didn’t win Olympic gold in 200 free, but she won Olympic gold 400 IM and WC silver.

Did you seriously use their times relative to each other as evidence in Ledeckys favour? You do realise Evans prime was like 30 years ago right.

Brownish
Reply to  M d e
18 days ago

Hosszú is the MVP in Rio, guys.

Troyy
Reply to  Swim Fandom
18 days ago

Evans’ 400 IM LCM and SCY PBs not in same zip code as Ledecky’s.

Evans’ 400 IM LCM PB (4:37.76) is faster than Ledecky’s (4:37.93) despite all the advances in training since then.

Cargo
Reply to  Troyy
18 days ago

Long been known by USA-S officials that Ledecky could medal internationally in both 400 IM and 200 Fly if she chose to throw her Free’s overboard and train those events. She is smart about event mix limitations. Old LCM time, not updated.

Rip Ram
Reply to  Cargo
17 days ago

Can back that up as an old Palisades Porpoises swimmer in Montgomery Co., MD summer swim league. Ledecky was a four-stroke terror as an age grouper, esp Fly, too good in Free though to force the focus elsewhere. Smart kid, and so smart about her shoulders. First one in pool, last one to leave. Those were the days, the rest is history…so fun to watch even now.

Troyy
Reply to  Cargo
17 days ago

It doesn’t matter, the dude was spreading misinformation anyway.

Ariel
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

Omitted here that unlike Hosszu, Ledecky won individual gold in consecutive Olympics in 2010s, her first at age 15. It took only Ledecky’s first international final to do something it took Hosszu four Olympics to achieve. (And no, sorry, that doesn’t give Hosszu points for perseverance.) Ledecky won gold in 25 of her first 27 major international LCM finals. That in itself is enough for “period-the end” in any debate but, nine years after 2012 London, Ledecky is still putting up top times in the world in four events.

run-dmc
Reply to  Ariel
18 days ago

If you count SCM, it’s Hosszu. If you only count LCM, it’s Ledecky.

If you only count SCY, it’s Ledecky by a nose because of her NCAA records.

Alex Gawande
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

Maybe relative to other events, but I disagree that Ledecky was not dominant in 200 Free (and possibly still is) though new schedule of events may make it difficult to determine. But she had a long stretch of several years where she was swimming 400-800-1500 Free and was still beating in the 200 Free the Olympic champions, elite swimmers, record-holders such as Pellegrini (2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics), Sjostrom and McKeon (2016 Olympics), Schmitt, Franklin, Muffat, Hosszu (!!), etc. etc. Just qualifying by defeating other great top-ranked 200 Free LCM swimmers in the United States competitions was remarkable, let alone posting among top times in the event year after year (and not as a 200 Fr specialist) for almost ten years.

M D E
Reply to  Alex Gawande
18 days ago

Ledecky was dominant at the 200 free if you completely change the definition of dominant sure.

She is one of 7 or 8 women at the moment who are remarkably close together in that event. Over the course of her career Ledecky probably hasn’t even been the best 200 fs swimmer (that is probably Pellegrini), let alone dominant.

Pretzel Man
Reply to  M D E
18 days ago

No way there are 7 or 8 “close together” women in the 200 m Free, keep dreaming.Just to put things in factual perspective, Pellegrini was two seconds shy of Ledecky’s top 200 Free time in the 2020 season, and was in the #6 slot. Pellegrini has raced in the same 200 m Free event as Ledecky three times internationally. Ledecky has won twice (including 2016 Olympics), Pellegrini once (in the only event she swims). Pellegrini has participated in four Olympic Games and she has the same number of Olympic gold medals in the 200 Free that Katie Ledecky and Allison Schmitt each have.

M d e
Reply to  Pretzel Man
18 days ago

Ledecky, Sjostrom, Titmus, McKeon, Rick and Pellegrini all have best times within about 0.7 seconds of each other if you exclude pellegrini super suit.

Then you have to consider Haughey.

So sorry, not 7 or 8, 6 or 7.

Troyy
Reply to  Alex Gawande
18 days ago

No one is dominant in the 200 free.

M D E
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

I think there is a case to be made for Ledecky, Hosszu AND Sjostrom.

Togger
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

I think statistically they have do similarities, but Ledecky’s swims seem more historic. Hosszu has those multiple fantastic swims, but I just feel like we won’t be looking at Hosszu’s times as still unreachable records, Ledecky’s we will.

M D E
Reply to  Togger
18 days ago

Hosszus 400 IM is just about as ridiculous as Ledecky’s 800 IMO.

2 seconds clear of the next best swimmer, 4 seconds clear of the next best swim since 2012.

It could just as easily last a really long time.

Brownish
Reply to  M D E
18 days ago

Sure.

Brownish
Reply to  Togger
18 days ago

Ok, I think the 400 IM won’t reach in 10 years.

Brownish
Reply to  Togger
18 days ago

Ask Titmus, please.

Joseph
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

No pun intended, but the event “overlap” argument holds no water. If one looks at the six non-Ledecky podium spots in the 400-800-1500 Frees across each of the 2013, 2015, 2017 World LCM Championships in which Ledecky participated, in the 400 Free there were 6 diffferent women, in the 800 Free there were 5 different women, and in the 1500 Free there were five different women. That means, with Ledecky winning a total of 9 times and with 18 other podium spots up for grabs, there was incredibly minimal “overlap” in those events other than Ledecky’s 9 individual gold medals and various WR performances.

GatorChomp
Reply to  Joseph
18 days ago

I don’t think the case you’ve just made is as strong as you think it is…

Most of what you’ve alluded to is that swimmers are of different ages and retired at different times. That not everybody is on precisely the same peak age schedule as Ledecky doesn’t validate your point.

Joseph
Reply to  GatorChomp
18 days ago

I think the point is very strong. Whether experienced veterans and Olympic/World Champions/WR holders like Pellegrini, Sjostrom, Adlington, Franklin, Schmitt, Muffat, Hosszu, Friis, Belmonte, Ziegler, Hoff or rookie up-and-comers like Bingjie Li and Wang Jianjiahe, Ledecky beat them all in multiple and different events across the first ten years of her career, whether they were event specialists or not. And there were different people coming at her with different event focus at different international meets with far less rigorous schedules than Ledecky’s. So, it’s correct there was little overlap and apparently, Ledecky’s “peak schedule” (unlike other swimmers) is lasting into a second decade.

swimfast
Reply to  Braden Keith
18 days ago

I really really like your 800 IM argument

Collins
Reply to  swimfast
18 days ago

Face plant.

Brownish
Reply to  Togger
18 days ago

She was farly the best.ithink we are speaking individuals.

Jack
Reply to  Togger
18 days ago

Saying there is no argument doesn’t make any sense. Since 2010 if you exclude relays which Katinka could not win, Ledecky has 4 Olympic Golds, 11 World Golds, 2 Silvers and 3 long course world records. Katinka has 3 Olympic Golds and 1 silver, 8 world golds 1 silver and 3 bronzes along with 2 Long course world records and 5 Short course world records. If you were then to also factor in Short course worlds (which you should) i would claim Katinka is overall undoubtedly the best swimmer of the 2010s. They are 2 phenomenal swimmers but i dont agree that Ledecky is unquestionably the best without any other input. IMO Katinkas dominance over so many strokes in both… Read more »

Torro
Reply to  Jack
17 days ago

Look, you can make the arguments until you are blue in the face, but it’s still Ledecky. And the whole swim community knows why, on several grounds.

Old Man Chalmers
19 days ago

so that leaves, in no particular order:

Regan Smith
Cate Campbell
Kaylee McKeown
Katie Ledecky
Ariarne Titmus
Zhang Yufei
Lilly King
Maggie MacNeil
Simone Manuel
Yulia Efimova

Mr Piano
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
18 days ago

Imagine not putting Hosszu here

swimfast
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
18 days ago

Based on recent performances and the like, I’m going to vouch hard for the #1 spot to be an Australian

M D E
Reply to  swimfast
18 days ago

McKeown should be 2/3 interchangable with Smith.

Ledecky should be 1.

Titmus should be top 5 but probably 5th.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
19 days ago

Baker is way too high. Even as it is said in the article that she is also good at 2IM, I still can’t agree with ranking her ahead of Masse.

AnEn
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
19 days ago

Maybe you could argue that she is ranked too high, but for me you can justify ranking her ahead of Masse. I would say that they are both equally likely to win 2 bronze medals in the 100/200 back and Baker could also make the 200 IM final (not sure about her medal chances tough). I think you could see the fact that Baker is world class in a 3rd event as a tie-breaker.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  AnEn
19 days ago

In my opinion it’s very important to deliver when it counts. Masse has apparently won more on world stage than Baker since Rio, including winning 100 back at Pan Pas despite Baker breaking WR a month earlier.

That’s also why I disagree with ranking Cate in top 10.

Swimfan
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
19 days ago

Baker is much better and stronger than masse. Baker finished higher than masse at the Olympics and holds a Olympic gold medal… as good as masse is she will fall like Katie hoff at the 2008 Olympics were she won back to back gold medals in the 200/400 IM and walked away with 1 silver and 2 bronze

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  Swimfan
19 days ago

Masse (58.77) was faster than Baker (59.00) in the medley relay in Rio. Baker got the gold medal because she’s from USA. Masse lost to Baker by 0.01 in the individual event, and these were all 5 years ago. She’s won 100 back gold at every major meet since then. The dilemma she’s facing right now is the rising of Regan and Kaylee, not the threat of Baker.
And why do you think Masse is going to fall, when she’s been much consistent than Baker in the past four years?

Prettykitten
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
19 days ago

I think Masse is an odd type of swimmer so its hard to rank her. Out of everyone I’m convinced that she has a good chance to take down Smith’s 100bk record just due to the amount of times she has been 58 low. She has won every 100bk since Rio I think but she also does not have a good enough best time to prove that she should be ranked higher. She’s like a dark horse because of her best times but the favourite due to her titles.

iLikePsych
Reply to  Prettykitten
18 days ago

Masse is consistent no doubt, but it’s that consistency that makes it hard to see her dropping half a second when she’s been at 58 low for 4 years at this point. Plus, even if she does get down to 57.5 odds are Smith or Mckeown will have taken it lower by then

Canadian Swimmer
Reply to  iLikePsych
18 days ago

To me Masse is in a similar situation to Manuel where she has never been a clear favorite but has been able to keep winning consistently through the quad.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Canadian Swimmer
18 days ago

masse went 58.21 at 2017 nationals and went into budapest as the huge favourite

MX4x50relay
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
18 days ago

Medal threat in 3 events ?? Former world record holder? Ranked too high? Mmm sureee

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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