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 #75 – #51
We’re getting closer to the top 50, but we’re not there yet. Some of these swimmers show minor medal (or higher) promise, some are seasons veterans who could be on top of the world this year if they’re on form and some had huge ISL seasons and are starting to make inroads in LCM.
#75: Louise Hansson, Sweden – Hansson had a breakthrough 2019, dropping a 25.8/57.1 in the LCM 50/100 fly. A 100 fly finalist at 2019 Worlds, she went lifetime bests in the 50/100 fly in SCM during the 2020 ISL season, and she’ll be super important with her abilities in free and back if Sweden goes for relays in Tokyo.
#74: Ilaria Cusinato, Italy – Cusinato looked like she might be a worthy IM challenger in 2018, and her lifetime best 4:34.65 from the Settle Colli Trophy in 2018 is nothing to scoff at. If she can return to form after a stint with Shane Tusup’s training group, she can build off of a bronze at the 2019 European SC Champs in the 400 IM.
#73: Mireia Belmonte, Spain – The 2016 Olympic Champion in the 200 fly and 2017 World Champion in that same event, Belmonte’s star has faded the last couple of years. She is no longer an international medal threat in distance free and the 400 IM, though, and she was only 2:10.63 in the fly at the 2019 World Champs.
#72: Gretchen Walsh, USA – Walsh just keeps getting better. The reigning World Junior champion in the 50 free and 100 free, her 53.7 from 2019 and 24.6 from just a couple of months ago prime her for the next level: becoming an international medal threat. The 15-16 50m free NAG record-holder is coming right up on Simone Manuel’s NAG records in the 17-18 category, and after going 21.41/46.98 in yards in 2020, things are looking up.
#71: Rebecca Smith, Canada – Smith dropped a 57.5 in the 100m fly at Worlds in 2019 at age 19, and she wasn’t far from joining fellow Canadian and eventual champion Maggie MacNeil in the final. With an impressive 54.5/1:57.7 in the 100/200 free in LCM, Smith also dropped PRs in SCM during the ISL season in the 200 free (1:52.9) and 100 fly (56.5).
#70: Kayla Sanchez, Canada – Sanchez is another young Canadian who could blow up at any moment. She’s been 24.9/53.6/1:57.2 since 2018 in long course freestyle, as well as 59.8 in the 100 back, and at 23.7/51.4/1:52.5 she’s also a fantastic SCM swimmer.
#69: Erika Brown, USA – After going under 50 seconds four different times in the 100 yard fly in college, Brown’s talent in meters shines through on freestyle. Just 26.0/56.2/2:00 in LCM before summer 2018, Brown has gotten down to 24.5/53.4/1:57.6. She also blasted a 21.0/45.8 combo in yards at the 2020 SEC Championships, and was a top relay swimmer for the Cali Condors during the ISL season.
#68: Michelle Coleman, Sweden – Coleman is a swimmer who has the speed to make things interesting at a meet like Worlds or the Olympics, but she hasn’t been able to deliver when it counts. She’s a fantastic three-distance freestyler: 24.2/53.0/1:55.6 (she’s even 4:07 in the 400), but her 200 best is from the 2017 Stockholm Open and the 50/100 from 2019 World Cup stops.
#67: Molly Hannis, USA – Hannis made the 2016 Olympic team in the 200 breast, though her signature event is really the 50 breast. She was ranked #2 among all women in the 50 breast during the ISL season (and #3 in the 100 breast), and while her 1:05.7 in the 100 breast in LCM is from 2018, she dropped times of 29.0/1:03.5/2:19.2 in SCM during the ISL season, all bests.
#66: Kasia Wasick, Poland – Wasick was a huge spark during the ISL season, finishing in the third spot for 50 free power and #7 in the 100 free. A standout sprinter at USC, Wasick is hitting her stride post-grad, and she went a lifetime best and Polish record 24.58 in the 50 (LCM) just a couple weeks before the pandemic hit. Her 23.30 in SCM was really impressive this past ISL season, too.
#65: Kim Seoyeong, South Korea – Kim set the Korean record in the 100 LCM free in November 2020 (54.83), adding to existing records in the 200 free (1:58.41), 200 IM (2:08.34) and 400 IM (4:35.93). It’s those IMs, especially the 200, where Kim is especially dangerous; that said, her 200 time is from 2018 and her 400 from 2017, so she doesn’t have recent success there.
#64: Beryl Gastaldello, France – Gastaldello was an absolute force during the ISL season, finishing the 2020 season with the fastest times in the league in the 100 fly (55.32) and 100 IM (57.30), while also coming in #2 in the 100 free, #4 in the 50 fly and #5 in the 50 free. Already at 57.6 in the 100 fly in LCM, the speed is coming for her in the big pool: she dropped lifetime bests of 24.8/53.4 in free at the French Elite Nationals in December.
#63: Lani Pallister, Australia – The Australian women’s youth talent pool is booming, and Pallister is no exception. In November, she snapped Australian senior records in SCM in the 800 free (8:10.12) and 1500 free (15:28.33), and she was the clear winner in the 400/800/1500 free at the 2019 World Junior Championships.
#62: Emily Escobedo, USA – Like Olympic medalist Katie Meili, Escobedo is an NCAA mid-major standout who has become an international medal threat post-grad. Her 200 breast is her biggest weapon, where she’s been 2:22.00 in LCM. During the ISL season, she hit 2:16s on multiple occasions, and only Lilly King and Annie Lazor were faster. A 1:07.1 lifetime best in the 100 breast long course last month is a sign that Escobedo has much more in the tank in the big pool.
#61: Bronte Campbell, Australia – Younger sister of 100 SCM free World Record-holder Cate Campbell, Bronte was 52.27 in 2018 in the long course 100 free, and she was also 52.03 with a flying start on Australia’s WR-setting 400 free relay at the Commonwealth Games. She’s been hampered by injuries, but if she can get back into 52-range in the 100 or 24-low in the 50, the 2015 50/100 free World Champion can still make the Aussie team individually for Tokyo and challenge for medals.
#60: Allison Schmitt, USA – Schmitt, the veteran, is still doing just fine since she won the 200 free Olympic title in 2012. Since Rio, she’s been 1:55.8 in the 200 long course in 2018, though she wasn’t very sharp at the 2018 Pan Pacs or 2019 Worlds. In January 2020, though, she dropped a 1:56.0 at a PSS meet. There’s a very real possibility she is an individual qualifier for Tokyo in the 200 free, and once she’s there, with Sjostrom and Ikee both in recovery mode this spring, a medal becomes a much more realistic possibility.
#59: Zhang Yifan, China – The 200 fly has not had a clear leader this last Olympic cycle, meaning it’s about time for a young talent to step up and do something. Zhang is one of two 2000-born Chinese women to go 2:06 in this event in fall 2020 (the other is directly below). Zhang was 2:06.99 at Chinese Nationals, and she is the 16th-fastest performer in this event since Rio.
#58: Yu Liyan, China – Lu has been a hair better than Zhang — at Chinese Nationals, she was 2:06.83, which has her at #14 since Rio. Of course, some swimmers ahead of her have faded out of the international consciousness. In 2020-21, for example, the story is different: Zhang is #3 in the world and Yu #2. The only problem? #1 is another Chinese swimmer, Zhang Yufei, who unleashed a 2:05.4 in January. Only two can race in Tokyo.
#57: Phoebe Bacon, USA – America has a problem, albeit a good one (for the coaching staff, at least): there are too many fast backstrokers. Bacon is one of them, and if she can make it through a ridiculous field at Olympic Trials, she’s an Olympic medal contender. She beat Regan Smith head-to-head at the 2019 U.S. Open, and her 58.6 from that meet (which would’ve won silver in Rio) has her eighth this Olympic cycle and fourth since fall 2019.
#56: Alia Atkinson, Jamaica – The World Record-holder in the 50 breast and 100 breast in SCM, Atkinson was one of the top sprint breaststrokers during the 2020 ISL season, #2 in the 100 and #3 in the 50. She was fourth in the 50 breast at 2019 Worlds, just off of the podium.
#55: Martina Carraro, Italy – Carraro was the queen of Italian breaststroke before a certain teenager, Benedetta Pilato, came along. She won bronze in the 100 breast at the 2019 World Championships, a meet where she also touched fifth in the 50 breast.
#54: Ajna Kesely, Hungary – Kesely could be *the* face of Hungarian swimming sooner or later. At the 2019 World Championships, she set the Hungarian record with a huge 4:01.31 in the 400 free, though even a time that fast couldn’t make the podium (she was .02 behind American Leah Smith, who took bronze). Kesely was also sixth in the 1500 after going 15:54.48 in prelims.
#53: Kelsi Dahlia, USA – While American youngsters are all over the butterfly events, Dahlia still helped set the World Record in the women’s 4×100 medley at the 2019 World Championships. In the 100 fly, only Claire Curzan has joined Dahlia under 57 seconds during this Olympic cycle. Dahlia was 56.37 to win Worlds bronze in 2017 and 56.44 to take Pan Pacs silver in 2018, but she was only 57.0 in 2019 and has been 57.3 since 2019. Not for nothing, Dahlia was the #3 performer during the entire 2020 ISL season in both the 100 fly and 200 fly.
#52: Mallory Comerford, USA – While Comerford hasn’t been electric the last year or two, she is still the only other American under 53 in the long course 100 free, ever, behind Simone Manuel. Her 52.57 from 2017 has her at the #7 performer ever, and she was 52.98 leading off Team USA’s American Record-breaking 400 free relay at 2019 Worlds, which won the silver. Comerford will need to be on her game to make the U.S. team individually, though, and it might take a 52 at Trials to get it done.
#51: Anastasiya Shkurdai, Belarus – One of the most exciting young sprinters in the world, Shkurdai is now 56.9 in the 100 fly and 59.0 in the 100 back in long course. No other swimmer in the world is that fast in both events right now– in fact, no female swimmer has ever been as fast in both the 100 fly and 100 back in LCM. Her versatility is impressive, too, as she was the #2 100 IMer and #4 100 butterflier during the 2020 ISL season.