SwimSwam’s Top 100 for 2021: Women’s #50 – #41

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 #50 – #41

#50: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – Schoenmaker has gone on a tear the past few years, sweeping the 100 and 200 breast gold medals at both 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World University Games. Her lone Worlds-level medal is a silver in the 200 breast at 2019 Worlds. Schoenmaker will turn 24 shortly before the Olympics and could challenge for South Africa’s first Olympic medal in women’s swimming since Penny Heyns in 2000.

#49: Margherita Panziera, Italy – Panziera is the reigning European 200 backstroke champion in both short course and long course meters. But the backstrokes set her up in a tough field with plenty of young talent ranking higher up on this list – that means even a good year could leave Panziera off the medal podium, as she was in a 4th-place showing (by .05) at 2019 Worlds. Still, Panziera is good enough to crack our top 50, with potential to move up if some of the backstroke upstarts regress in the Olympic spotlight.

#48: Charlotte Bonnet, France -Like Panziera, Bonnet is a 2018 European Champion (200 free) who faces a much tougher non-European field at the Olympic level. Bonnet was the #2-ranked European in the world in the 200 free for 2020 – but just 7th when you include swimmers from Asia, Australia, and the U.S. Bonnet is also a very solid short course 200 freestyler who could have an impact at Short Course Worlds or in the ISL if she participates this year.

#47: Claire Curzan, USA – the 16-year-old Curzan has been an age group standout for awhile. But a 56.6 in the long course 100 fly last November was a swim that put Curzan onto the international stage – that was the #1 swim of any American for 2020 and ranked 3rd worldwide. An Olympic medal is well within the range of outcomes for Curzan, and with her age and improvement curve, the ceiling is much, much higher.

#46: Katie Drabot, USA – Drabot won World Championships bronze in the 200 fly in 2019. Though she’ll face some stiff competition to make the U.S. Olympic team, she’s also a solid medal threat who might be a bigger name if she’d gotten a senior-year NCAA meet last spring. As a bonus, Drabot also projects as a strong ISL candidate if she chooses to compete in short course meters.

#45: Rikako Ikee, Japan – a couple of years ago, Ikee would probably be a top-10 swimmer on this list after winning six golds at the 2018 Asian Games and four total medals (including 100 fly gold) at 2018 Pan Pacs. She’d been out of competition for more than a year and a half while undergoing treatment for leukemia. But the 20-year-old has started her comeback trail with a handful of meets over the past six months, and in the past two months qualified for Japan’s Olympic Trials with a 55.35 in the 100 free and also went 24.91 in the 50 free. Those are major steps toward a return to her ceiling, which is much, much higher than #45, though Ikee has plenty of work to do in limited time before the Tokyo Olympics. The world freestyle and butterfly fields, though, have to be looking over their shoulder as Ikee starts to get up to speed.

#44: Taylor Ruck, Canada – Ruck’s ceiling is absolutely sky-high for an athlete ranked in this range. But she also has to prove she can manage a heavy workload enough to break through for an individual world-level medal. Ruck won a ridiculous eight total medals at 2018 Commonwealth Games and upset Katie Ledecky for Pan Pacs 200 free gold that same year. In 2019, though, she won only relay medals at Worlds, scratching out of the 200 free as her event slate grew overcrowded in the prelims/semifinals/finals format. She wasn’t far off multiple medals (4th in 100 back; 5th in 200 back; 5th in 100 free) and could break through in a huge way in Tokyo – she just has to find the right balance of events, including lots of relays that will be high-priority to her Canadian national team.

#43: Femke Heemskerk, Netherlands – Heemskerk is another big-name sprinter to end up in the 40s on our list. A two-time Olympic relay medalist, Heemskerk faces a tall order to win her first individual Olympic medal at the age of 33. But anything can happen in the sprints, and Heemskerk is a good candidate to at least make the 100 free final, putting herself in the mix. Heemskerk is also a big-time short course talent who was top-30 in ISL scoring this year – she projects to remain a big-name contributor there for 2021.

#42: Liu Xiang, China – Liu had an outstanding 2020, dropping four tenths of a second in the 50 free and leading the world in both that event (24.03) and the 50 back (27.36) for the calendar year. The 24-year-old isn’t a household name, and a bronze medal in the 50 back at 2015 Worlds is the extent of her international resume. But 24.0 speed can’t be ignored – that puts her #11 all-time and one of the youngest of the still-active names on that list.

#41: Kira Toussaint, Netherlands – Toussaint’s major resume piece is a 2020 world record in the short course 50 backstroke. That’s a major accomplishment for the fast-rising Dutch swimmer. Toussaint really only sits this low because that crowning achievement doesn’t come in the Olympic course (long course meters) or distance (the 50 back isn’t an Olympic event). A recent 58.9 in the 100 long course meter backstroke suggests Toussaint should be an Olympic final contender there, and though that field is absolutely brutal with top-flight talents, Toussaint still has an outside shot to steal a minor medal.

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PeatyPiper
7 months ago

First – like James Wilby in 200m breast at Tokyo.

USA
Reply to  PeatyPiper
7 months ago

I don’t think he Wilby

PeatyPiper
Reply to  USA
7 months ago

What a Peaty

2Fat4Speed
Reply to  PeatyPiper
7 months ago

Hey, don’t be that Guy.

Khachaturian
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
7 months ago

we should Luke at this in a more positive manner

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  USA
7 months ago

He will make the team Proud.

Craig Jones
Reply to  PeatyPiper
7 months ago

Sorry to duncan your parade but this post’scott too much attention.

PeatyPiper
7 months ago

Also just to post on topic, I reckon Taylor Ruck should be way lower down (as in ranked higher).

AnEn
Reply to  PeatyPiper
7 months ago

Why? She isn’t favorite for a medal in any event. She has some nice versatility though. Still it is debatable whether Oleksiak should really be ranked ahead of her.

AnEn
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

Also there is exactly ZERO reason to rank Anderson ahead of her.

PeatyPiper
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

As the article mentions, her potential is through the roof. If she turns up on form she will sweep up left, right and centre.
She is very young so we can reasonably expect to see new best times from her, as opposed to a number of other people who will be further down the list who may have their best times behind them.

AnEn
Reply to  PeatyPiper
7 months ago

1) There are many athletes with crazy potential, but this doesn’t justify ranking them ahead of athletes who have actually proven that they can medal at the biggest stage.
2) Ruck has had that potential like forever, but so far she didn’t show much of it at the biggest stage.
3) Even if she reaches her potential, she won’t sweep up left, right and center. In the 100/200 back she can win bronze at best and in the 100/200 free there is zero reason to believe that she has more potential than Manuel/Ledecky/Titmus.

PeatyPiper
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

By ‘sweep up’ I’m not suggesting a Phelpsian haul of gold medals. I do think she can win multiple medals though, both across individual events and relays.
And even if i can’t back it up I’m absolutely going to say she can contend with all three of those in the 100 and 200. What can I say, I have a hunch.

Robbos
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

Yes exactly like Walsh v Bronte Campbell as you suggested in the 75-51 thread.

swimswamswum
Reply to  Robbos
7 months ago

I would agree that this is probably a little low for Ruck given if she gets back to 2018 form she has a shot at gold in the 200 and then minor medals in the 100/200 back, 100 free, and all three relays.

AnEn
Reply to  Robbos
7 months ago

How so? Bronte Campbell isn’t a medal contender.

Robbos
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

In your tainted opinion.
Facts are Bronte is 5th fastest of all time. Has been top 5-6 for last 5-6 years. This mere fact qualifies her as a medal contender, also a medal contender for the 50 free.
Walsh (in your words) crazy potential, but this doesn’t justify ranking them ahead of athletes who have actually proven that they can medal at the biggest stage.

Last edited 7 months ago by Robbos
commonwombat
Reply to  Robbos
7 months ago

Suspect C2 may be shut out of 100fr by older sister & McKeon but its far from certain & they will most likely need to swim well under 52.5 to do so. Still probably narrow favourite for 2nd 50free spot. Despite nursing dodgy shoulders for this past Olympic cycle, she’s still been making finals at World level. I do think the 100 is her better event and whichever out of the trio (C1, C2, McKeon) make the team would have to be seen as a medal contender.

Ruck is probably around “correct trajectory” at this point. Clear medal potential in a number of events but, at this point, not a “front-line of betting” favourite in any.

Bonnett = a bit… Read more »

Troyy
Reply to  commonwombat
7 months ago

No doubt AnEn will be along to correct your misconceptions about C2.

Robbos
Reply to  commonwombat
7 months ago

Thank you CW.
“”whichever out of the trio (C1, C2, McKeon) make the team would have to be seen as a medal contender.”

AnEn
Reply to  Robbos
7 months ago

Yes, it is also a fact that despite always having very good in-season times she hasn’t medaled at worlds or olympics since 2015. It is also a fact that McKeon and Cate Campbell have been about as fast or even faster than her since 2019, so she will have a hard time even qualifying. Also just because someone has been top 5-6 for the last 5-6 years doesn’t make that person a medal contender (please don’t make nonsensical statements like that).

Robbos
Reply to  AnEn
7 months ago

She won the 2018 Commonwealth games, now not the world stage, but good enough to beat Campbell Cate, Ruck, Oleisak, some swimmers there.
While at Olympics & WC, she has made finals, so there is a medal contender there, but it;s unfortunate she has carried injuries.
As for McKeon & C1 , just Australia does have the luxury of having 3 of the top 6 swimmers in the world, whichever 2 qualifies, just like in lots of other Events America also has 3 swimmers in the top 10 & any of the 3 are medal contenders.

Mr Piano
7 months ago

By the time we get to the top 10, you’ll probably have to move Ikee there lol

Skoorbnagol
7 months ago

Taylor Ruck is at least top 20 based of some of then times she has done in the past quad, her age and physical ability.

AnEn
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
7 months ago

No. There are more than 20 women who are either realistic medal contenders in multiple events or favorite in one event, so Ruck clearly shouldn’t have been ranked top 20.

MX4x50relay
7 months ago

Drabot won bronze at worlds I thought

AnEn
Reply to  MX4x50relay
7 months ago

Yes, but that is enough to be ranked ahead of Schoenmaker who won silver in the 200 breast and was 6th in the 100 breast.

AnEn
7 months ago

Especially Schoenmaker is extremely underrated (she could medal in the 200 breast and make the 100 breast final), while Bonnet (absolutely no medal chance, can make one final at best) is clearly ranked too high. Out of all the swimmers on this list Schoenmaker should have been ranked the highest, ahead of Drabot, Xiang, Panziera, Curzan, Ruck, Ikee, Toussaint, Heemskerk and Bonnet.

NCSwimFan
7 months ago

*rubs eyes*

SwimSwam ranked Curzan at #47? Not top 10?

Honest Observer
7 months ago

Nice writeup on Curzan, you described her potential perfectly. I’ll be rooting like mad for Ikee for the next few years, and took great pleasure in that recent 24.9 she put put up, but for purposes of this list, it seems as if you’re mostly being kind to her. Hard to imagine that in five or six short months she’s going to recover enough to be a factor. Hope I’m wrong.

DDias
Reply to  Honest Observer
7 months ago

Talking about Ikee, I think ‘underrated’ works a bit in her favor.It’s good to be the underdog in 50free.Remember:A 24.0 won the good medal last Olympics.I could see Ikee winning a bronze in 24 low.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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