SwimSwam’s Top 100 for 2021: Women’s #40-31

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 #40 – #31

#40: Freya Anderson, GBR – Anderson is on her way to becoming the best 100/200 freestyler in British history, hitting a 53.3 100 free in 2019 and then a 1:56.0 out of championships season (January 2020) in long course. Her 200 is where she really has medal chances, notorious for ridiculous back-half speed a la Federica Pellegrini. In November, Anderson broke her own British record in the 200 SCM free of 1:52.60 by almost a full second, hitting a 1:51.87. Anderson was the #2 ISL swimmer in the 200 free and #5 in the 100, and her SCM progressions since the pandemic hit prime her for a 1:55 or better this summer in long course.

#39: Pernille Blume, Denmark  – Blume is one of the greatest European sprinters in history, and she’s the reigning Olympic champion in the 50 free. She won the 100 free bronze at 2017 Worlds, and since then she’s taken Euro Champs long course bronze in the 50 in 2018 and Euro SCM bronze in 2019. Though she hasn’t won a major international medal since 2017, she was still 24.08 in long course in June 2019 at a FINA Champions Series meet, which holds up well, at fifth in the world since January 2019.

#38: Abbey Weitzeil, USA – Weitzeil has been one of the top American sprinters since the end of high school. Coming off of a senior season at Cal that saw her become the first woman to break 21 seconds in the flat-start 50-yard free, she hit a lifetime best 53.18 in the 100 long course free in 2019. She’s also been 24.28 in the 50, but not since 2016. Weitzeil doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, though; during the ISL season, she blasted a 23.4/51.2 SCM combo in the 50 and 100, downing American Records in both. In 2019, she also had a big 52.6 split at long course Worlds to help Team USA snap the American Record in the 4×100 free relay.

#37: Penny Oleksiak, Canada – Oleksiak had a huge peak in 2016, famously tying with Simone Manuel for 100 free gold in Rio. She has been 52.70 in the 100 free and 56.46 in the 100 fly, which would be medal-contending times if they weren’t from 2016. She hasn’t fully gone quiet, though, and thundered to a new best of 1:56.41 in the 200 free at 2019 Worlds. Intriguingly, while she didn’t race the 100 free or 100 fly at that meet, she delivered major splits on relays, going 1:54.36 to anchor the 4×200 relay and 52.48 to anchor the medley. Both relays won bronze and set new Canadian records, as did the 400 free relay where she split 52.69. We’ll know soon where she’s at now, with the Canadian Trials coming up.

#36: Olivia Smoliga, USA – We’re starting to see the effects of the ridiculous field of women’s backstroke worldwide. Smoliga, who won the 50 back gold and 100 back bronze at the 2019 Worlds, has had an incredible career so far; she set the American Record in the 50m back in 2019 in long course, set American Records in the SCM 50 and 100 back during the 2020 ISL season, and she’s been on two World Record-setting relays (the 4×50 medley and 4×100 medley women’s relays). A very strong sprinter in free and back in SCM, Smoliga’s medal shot comes down to the 100 back, and she will need to really fight just to make the U.S. team.

#35: Leah Smith, USA Leah Smith has been the dependable American in the #2 distance slot behind WR-holder Katie Ledecky for several years now. Smith won Olympic bronze in the 400 free in Rio, and since then, she’s been very much in the mix: she won silver in the 400 and bronze in the 800 in Budapest at 2017 Worlds, then took the 400 bronze in Gwangju at 2019 Worlds. She also won bronze in the 400, 800 and 1500 free at Pan Pacs in 2018. Further, Smith has helped Team USA to Olympic gold in the 4×200 free relay, while she’s been on 4×200 free relays that won the World title in 2017 and World silver in 2019. The 400 free is starting to get really crowded, but Smith has had more recent bests in the 800, and she’s a medal contender in both.

#34: Yang Junxuan, China – In January 2020, Yang unleashed a 1:54.98 in the 200m free in long course, putting the world on notice. She just turned 19 last month, and we see a lot of turnover with young Chinese standouts who throw down huge times once or twice then fade out. Yang doesn’t appear to be one of those cases, though: she owns the top time for the 2020-21 season after another big January swim, a 1:55.65 to come close to her own Chinese record. The 200 free has plenty of 1:54’s and 1:55s in the mix, but we’ve seen Ledecky regress and both Sjöström and Ikee are recovering from injury and leukemia, respectively, which makes the event far more open.

#33: Melanie Margalis, USA – One of the best combo 200 IMers/200 freestylers in the world, Margalis has been painstakingly short of medaling in the 200 IM at the last two World Championships, taking fourth in 2017 and 2019. She holds American Records in all three IM races in SCM, and she’s been on both American Record-setting 4×200 free relays in SCM and LCM, including a 1:55.8 split at 2019 Worlds. Margalis left the ISL season early due to personal reasons, but before she left, she won the 200 IM three times and the 400 free, 400 IM and 100 IM once each in her three matches in Budapest.

#32: Benedetta Pilato, Italy – Pilato is one of two young breaststroke sensations, and her sprint tempo is starting to work in the 100, not just the 50. After figuring out her 100 breast race strategy, Pilato broke through in December’s Italian Nationals with a 1:06.02 to break the Italian record and qualify for Tokyo. Her 50 breast at that meet was magnificent: she went 29.61 to break her own Italian record, as well as the World Junior record. During the 2020 ISL season, Pilato didn’t show any nerves going up against greats like Lilly King and Alia Atkinson, ending the season as the #2 performer in the 50 and #3 in the 100.

#31: Evgenia Chikunova, Russia – Chikunova is a sniper 200 breaststroker, having taken down Yulia Efimova Russian age group records; notably, she blasted a 2:21.0 in the 200 breast long course at age 14. Her best of 2:21.07 from the 2019 European Junior Championships has her as the fourth-best active performer right now, too. There are a lot of 200 breaststrokers floating between 2:19 and 2:22 right now, but Chikunova is still very young, and she should be a medal contender, if not Olympic title contender, in the 200 breast.

In This Story

29
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
29 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Klorn8d
5 months ago

I love Olivia smoliga but she did not get bronze in the 100 back in 2016 lol

swimswamswum
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

I think they mean bronze in 2019 Worlds!

Prettykitten
5 months ago

Why is Anderson ahead of Ruck?

Dee
Reply to  Prettykitten
5 months ago

Instinctively, I asked myself the same question. Perhaps because Anderson’s curve is still very much upwards? That’s the only reason I can find.

swimswamswum
Reply to  Dee
5 months ago

Plus ISL

Prettykitten
Reply to  swimswamswum
5 months ago

She had a great isl season however she is slower in both 100 and 200 free and unlike Ruck she isn’t competitive in any other events. I do think she’s going to have a big summer but I just can’t see the reasoning with what she’s done so far.

Dee
Reply to  Prettykitten
5 months ago

Like you I disagree with Anderson being ranked ahead of Ruck, but I do understand what I imagine was the reasoning behind it. On recent times, both look unlikely to win medals, but of the two, Anderson has the kind of profile you’d look for when pinpointing Olympic season improvers.

swimfast
5 months ago

This list is very appropriate except Margalis. Should be ranked higher (her 4:32 400 IM was noteworthy and not even mentioned)

AnEn
Reply to  swimfast
5 months ago

At first i wanted to disagree, but now i think that you might be right. I think out of all the athletes listed, she has the best chance to win 2 individual medals, ahead of Smith and Chikunova. I think you could justify ranking Margalis ahead of everyone except Manuel, Sjöstrom, C. Campbell, Titmus, R. Smith, King, Ledecky, Quadarella, Masse, McKeown, McKeon, Efimova, Hosszu, Ye Shiwen, MacNeil and maybe Pellegrini, so ranking her top 20 would have been appropriate.

I would have ranked the 10 swimmers mentioned in the article as follows:
1) Margalis
2) Smith
3) Chikunova
4) Pilato
5) Oleksiak (her ranking is debatable, you could rank her anywhere between 4th and 10th)… Read more »

swimswamswum
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

I think you’re low on Smith – I think she really hasn’t swam to her potential in the mile and with just going after the 400/800/1500 plus 4×200, she could easily have 4 medals. Everyone on this list besides Oleksiak (who’s a wild card in 100/200 free, 100 fly, plus all relays) is only looking at 1 – 2 medals.

AnEn
Reply to  swimswamswum
5 months ago

I only talked about individual events, so the relay is not relevant. Also i don’t see any chance that Smith will (suddenly) win a medal in the 1500 free. I don’t see a realistic chance that she could beat Köhler (who is the favorite for bronze), even if she would go for it. In the 400 free she is probably 3+ seconds faster than Köhler, but in the 800 free she is already slower. I don’t see how she could reverse the trend in the 1500 free, especially with Köhler’s recent improvement in the short course. She probably has the potential to medal in the 1500 free, but it would probably mean giving up on the 400 free (like Quadarella… Read more »

swimfast
Reply to  swimswamswum
5 months ago

Disagree, she has been all over the place lately and nowadays with a list of new names in women’s distance since Rio the times to medal, I’m guessing, will be 4:00, 8:12, and 15:40. Smith’s very best times are 4:00, 8:16, and 16:00+…those times were done fully tapered, so not sure why you think she’s gonna pop off in Tokyo. However I do agree with the 4 x 200 because she has been looking good in that distance especially

Last edited 5 months ago by swimfast
Prettykitten
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

I’d agree unfortunately we didn’t get to see Oleksiak do anything in 2020. I’d say she has a good chance of defending her gold medal based off her unrested 53 where she beat Manual but for an Olympic champion she is just a complete unknown. Margalis looks like she could possibly win the 400im based on Hosszu’s isl performance.

run-dmc
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

Her great performances have to be balanced against her ISL withdrawal. Why did she withdraw? Is she training? If it weren’t for the withdrawal, You could argue for Margalis being top 20.

2Fat4Speed
5 months ago

But Blume is #1 in our hearts!! 😍

HoosierDaddy
5 months ago

The top ten swimmers (regardless of gender) of all time in my humble opinion.
10. Ray Looze
9. Ray Looze
8. Ray Looze
7. Ray Looze
6. Ray Looze
5. Ray Looze
4. Ray Looze
3. Ray Looze
2. Ray Looze
1 Ray Looze

shrek kachowski
Reply to  HoosierDaddy
5 months ago

*humble

AnEn
Reply to  HoosierDaddy
5 months ago

Who?

DistanceSwimmer
Reply to  HoosierDaddy
5 months ago

*
10. Ray Looze
9. Ray Looze
8. Ray Looze
7. Ray Looze
6. Ray Looze
5. Ray Looze
4. Ray Looze
3. Ray Looze
2. Ray Looze
1. The GOAT Ray Looze

AnEn
Reply to  DistanceSwimmer
5 months ago

Sorry, never heard of her. What are her best events?

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  HoosierDaddy
5 months ago

Looze is the new Dean Farris

AnEn
5 months ago

I think a lot of american swimmers have been ranked too high so far (both male and female), but i really don’t see a reason to rank Pilato ahead of Smith and Margalis, who both could win 2 individual medals. Pilato is amazing, but i don’t think her performances in a non-olympic event should have the same emphasis of what Smith and Margalis could do in olympic events. Pilato has zero chance of winning more than 1 individual medal and probably bronze at best, while the other 2 could win 2 individual medals and Margalis could actually win a gold medal.

ab88
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

Pilato is 15.. lol.. her curve is IMPRESSIVE. But yea, Margalis should be in a better position

AnEn
5 months ago

12th – like James Wilby in 200m breast at Tokyo.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

The fun fact is that he was indeed 12th in Gwangju.

PeatyPiper
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
5 months ago

AnEn has just been waiting for the 11th comment to post this.

AnEn
Reply to  PeatyPiper
5 months ago

Actually that is not true. When i had the idea to write a comment like that, there were only 10 comments, but then i reloaded and suddenly there were 11 comments already, so i had to change it to 12th. In the end it is all your fault. If you would have been here earlier, i wouldn’t have written it, but when i didn’t see your usual comment, i thought that it was my duty to take your place.

PeatyPiper
Reply to  AnEn
5 months ago

Hahahahaha well played.

NJones
5 months ago

Ruck and Penny have and have had sooooooooo much potential to each be individual international superstars, aka Sjostrom/Hosszu/Manual etc. But they have just not (yet) elevated to that level for many reasons, youth, covid, and maybe not ready to perform consistently at that high level. This year and next will be fascinating to see if they are still on that trajectory or simply a finalist type internationally or ISL valuable pro. All of the above ok…..

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

Read More »