Our Top 100 For 2022 series continues with the men’s 20th through 11th-ranked swimmers for the coming year.
The rankings are heavily weighted towards the Long Course World Championships, but also factors in other championship-level international meets, plus ISL scoring potential.
We’ll break down the list into multiple installments, so stay tuned as we continue with our lists.
These lists are, by nature, subjective. If you disagree, leave your thoughts/ranks in the comments.
#20: David Popovici, Romania – No male swimmer took the world by storm in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics quite like Popovici, who produced a stunning time of 47.30 in the men’s 100 freestyle at the European Junior Championships less than a month out from the Games. That pushed the Romanian to the top of the world rankings despite being just 16 years of age, and he also put up an elite 1:45.26 in the 200 free, making him a legitimate medal hopeful in both events. Amidst all of the pressure in Tokyo, Popovici performed well, hitting a 47.72 in the 100 free semis to make the final before placing seventh (48.04), and then dropping a European Junior Record of 1:44.68 to take fourth in the 200 free, two-one-hundredths outside of a medal. After turning 17 in September, Popovici went out and won gold at European SC Championships in the 200 free (1:42.12), and having also raced at LC Euros and SC Worlds last year, enters 2022 with a ton of experience under his belt. Given his level of talent and how quickly he rose to the top of the sport, Popovici is a gold medal challenger at the LC World Championship level right away. While Caeleb Dressel and Kyle Chalmers make the path to 100 free glory a daunting one, he’s right there with those two, and the road to the top of the 200 free podium is well within reach (he was only four-tenths behind gold medalist Tom Dean in the Olympic final).
#19: Carson Foster, USA – Not surprisingly, Foster is the highest-ranked swimmer in the Top 100 who didn’t compete at the Olympic Games. He was in position to qualify in the 400 IM at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but was run down by Jay Litherland on the last 50 and wound up third. He went on to narrowly miss a spot in the 200 IM and 800 free relay later in the meet as well. The Mason Manta Ray product came back one month later and produced a world-leading time of 4:08.46 in the 400 IM, which not only would have won the Olympic final, but was the fastest time done in 2021, period. The 20-year-old also hit a best time of 1:57.20 in the 200 IM at that meet, leaving him just shy of the world’s top 10 for the year, and is coming off of a very impressive SC World Championship showing where he picked up silver in the 200 IM and bronze in the 400 IM (along with a gold in the 800 free relay). Currently training at the University of Texas, Foster still needs to prove that he can perform when the pressure’s on to be a surefire medal contender at Worlds, though he made strides in that regard in Abu Dhabi.
#18: Ilya Shymanovich, Belarus – Shymanovich took over as the jackpot king of the ISL in Season 3, getting red-hot in the playoffs to finish the season ranked third in MVP scoring (403.5 points) as he helped Energy Standard reclaim the league title. The Belarusian has solidified himself as one of the best male breaststrokers in the world, having reset the 100 breast world record (SCM) multiple times during the ISL season. He followed that by winning the SC World title in the event in December, and also won the 50 and 200 breast at SC Euros in November (tying the world record in the 50, which has since been lowered by Emre Sakci). In the long course pool, Shymanovich hasn’t performed at his best in the big meets. He did win silver in the 50 breast in the European Championships in May, but missed the podium in the 100 and then placed eighth in the Olympic final, over a second slower than his best time. The 27-year-old has been as fast as 58.29 in the 100, and finished 2021 ranked fifth in the world at 58.46, and also ranked third worldwide in the 50 breast (26.47). With his level of ability, Shymanovich is certainly a player for medals at LC Worlds in the 50 and 100 breast, though Adam Peaty seemingly has a lock on gold for the time being.
#17: Michael Andrew, USA – Andrew ranked in the top five of four different LCM events in 2021, and no other male swimmer had that many ranked in the top 10. But despite having that success in the form of times, Andrew’s medal count on the major international stage still leaves something to be desired. The American made history at the 2019 World Championships by becoming the first swimmer to make the final in all four 50s, but fell shy of reaching the podium. In Tokyo, he came in as a medal contender in all three of his individual events, including holding the #1 time in the world time in the 200 IM (1:55.26), but missed again. The 22-year-old ended up placing fourth in both the 50 free and 100 breast in Tokyo, and was fifth in the 200 IM, unable to match his times from the U.S. Olympic Trials. He did earn a gold medal and break the world record along with his American teammates in the men’s 4×100 medley relay, and also ranked fifth in the world in the 100 fly (50.80) while opting not to race that in Omaha. Andrew sat out of the 2021 ISL season and then had a relatively pedestrian showing at SC Worlds in December, so we’ll need to wait for the first few LC meets of the year to see where he’s at leading into U.S World Trials. But the fact remains he’s one of the best in the world in all four 50s, the 100 breast, 100 fly and 200 IM, so he’s got several medal opportunities in Fukuoka.
#16: Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – Hafanoui’s stunning victory in the men’s 400 freestyle at the Tokyo Olympic Games is well documented, as the Tunisian came in seeded 16th with a time of 3:46.16 and ended up winning gold in 3:43.36. That performance was unbelievable, as he wasn’t even on anyone’s radar to make the final coming in, and it ended up ranking him third in the world in 2021. But despite Hafnaoui’s incredible swim in Tokyo, it did leave everyone wondering if he was going to be a consistent gold medal challenger in the coming years, or if that was more of a ‘once in a lifetime’ type of swim. That question was answered at the Short Course World Championships last month, as the 19-year-old dropped an incredible time of 14:10.94 in the 1500 free, winning silver behind the world record-breaking Florian Wellbrock and becoming the #5 performer of all-time. That swim in Abu Dhabi affirmed Hafnaoui’s place among the best distance freestyle swimmers in the world, and while we still haven’t seen enough of him to truly know where he lies in the LCM pecking order, we’ll get a good idea this year. The ceiling is high.
#15: Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia – Stubblety-Cook was unstoppable in the men’s 200 breaststroke last summer, recording the second-fastest swim in history at the Australian Olympic Trials (2:06.28) before roaring home on the last 50 to win the Olympic title in 2:06.38. The 23-year-old Aussie had been rising through the ranks in the lead-up to Tokyo, earning silver at the 2018 Pan Pacs and then finishing fourth at the 2019 Worlds, with the three medalists ahead of him all historically dipping below 2:07. 2:06 was once a rarity, but now we’ve seen 16 of them in history, and Stubblety-Cook is the only swimmer that’s been under 2:06.5 more than once. With Anton Chupkov edging towards retirement, Stubblety-Cook has now asserted herself as the man to beat in the 200 breast moving forward. And while his 100 breast hasn’t reached the same level (59.69 best time), he split between 58.6 and 58.8 three times on relays in Tokyo, indicating he should be able to dip below the 59-second threshold at some point.
#14: Tom Dean, Great Britain – Dean didn’t even race the 200 free individually at the 2019 World Championships, sitting in the #3 hole in Great Britain behind Duncan Scott and James Guy, but steadily improved in the two-year lead-up to Tokyo and pulled off an epic gold medal victory. Dean instantly became a threat to win when he took nearly 1.5 seconds off his PB at the British Trials, going from 1:46.03 to 1:44.58, and then won a nail-biter in the Olympic final in 1:44.22, just .04 ahead of teammate Scott. Dean, 21, is well-versed in several other events as well, holding solid best times in the 100 free (48.30) and 400 free (3:47.48), and he also has a 1:58.3 200 IM in his back pocket. He’s also someone the London Roar have been able to utilize well in the ISL in the past, including winning the 400 free in the 2020 finale, though he raced infrequently last season. Right now he’s one of the best in the 200 free (the best last year), and is talented enough that he could emerge as a medal contender in one or more other events in short order.
#13: Arno Kamminga, Netherlands – There’s no better all-around male breaststroker in the world than Kamminga, who is the only swimmer that’s a member of both the sub-58 and sub-2:07 clubs in the LCM 100 and 200 breast. The Dutchman went 2:06.85 in the 200 in December 2020, and then in the 100, cracked 58 seconds in April 2021 (57.90) before doing it again in the Olympic prelims (57.80). Kamminga ended up finishing second in Tokyo, a position he became all too familar with by the end of the year. The 26-year-old was the runner-up in the 100 and 200 breast at both LC Euros and the Olympics, and then took two more silvers in the 200 at SC Euros and SC Worlds. Maybe that’s just the price he has to pay in being able to compete in both distances at the highest level, because he’s losing out to specialists each and every time, but with his constant improvement and the fact he’s always performing well at major championships, a victory will come sooner rather than later.
#12: Wang Shun, China – Wang became the first swimmer not named Michael Phelps to win the Olympic title in the men’s 200 IM since 2000 last summer, coming through with the swim of his life in the Tokyo final with an Asian Record time of 1:55.00. That performance makes him the third-fastest swimmer ever, trailing only Phelps and world record holder Ryan Lochte, and it certainly wasn’t a fluke. While many might not have picked Wang to win, with American Michael Andrew leading the world rankings and Great Britain’s Duncan Scott pegged as a clutch performer, Wang has consistently been up with the best. The 27-year-old Chinese native won bronze in the event at the 2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds, and also claimed back-to-back SC World titles in 2016 and 2018. 2019 was a bit of an anomaly as he only finished sixth at the World Championships, but was still less than two-tenths away from a medal, and 2022 projects to be a big year with both LC Worlds and the Asian Games on the horizon. Wang is incredibly talented in a number of events, but has really zeroed in on the 200 IM of late. He did swim the 400 IM in Tokyo, placing 10th in 4:10.63—a time that ended up being just a quarter of a second slower than the bronze medal-winning time in the final. He’s the man to beat in the 200 IM this year, but the fact that it’s the only event he’s a consistent medal contender in keeps him out of the top 10.
#11: Florian Wellbrock, Germany – Wellbrock comes into the year carrying a lot of momentum after smashing the world record in the men’s 1500 freestyle at the Short Course World Championships in December, as the German dropped a scintillating time of 14:06.88. He’s also the reigning World and European champion in the mile in the long course pool, but fell to third at the Tokyo Olympics. He was also fourth, three tenths outside of a medal, in the 800 free at the Games, and just days later won the Olympic title in the open water 10k. That SC Worlds performance indicates we could see something monstrous in the long course pool this year, and he’s already been 14:36 three different times. But it remains to be seen if the split focus between open water and the 800/1500 slightly hinders his performances (and closing speed) in the pool, with the races generally held in quick succession at major championships.