Our Top 100 For 2022 series continues with the men’s 30th through 21st-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.
#30: Gabriele Detti, Italy – Detti’s been a top contender on the men’s distance freestyle scene for the better part of the last decade, specializing in the 400 and 800. The Italian doubled up with bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, taking third in both the men’s 400 and 1500 free, and then won the World Championship title the following year in the 800 free. Having also nabbed back-to-back World Championship bronzes in the 400 free, Detti has dealt with numerous injuries of late, but still pulled through with a solid showing at the Olympics, placing sixth in the 400 in 3:44.88. The 27-year-old has 14 sub-3:45 400 free swims on his track record, and without the setbacks might’ve been in the battle for medals in Tokyo in the 800 free (owning a best of 7:40.77 from 2017, 1.1 seconds faster than the gold medal-winning time). Also a great short course swimmer, Detti rattled off a trio of 3:39 SCM 400 frees in Italy to close out the year, and if he’s firing on all cylinders, he’s got a great chance to medal in two events at LC Worlds.
#29: Shoma Sato, Japan – Sato was one of the key names to watch leading into last summer’s Olympic Games, as he appeared poised to challenge for a gold medal on home soil in the men’s 200 breaststroke. However, things went astray for the young Japanese breaststroker in Tokyo, as he fell to 10th in his best event, more than two and a half seconds slower than his time from the Olympic Trials set just a few months earlier. Sato, 20, had been on fire in the lead-up, dropping his 200 breast time from 2:07.02 (October 2020) to 2:06.78 (January 2021) to 2:06.40 (April 2021), ranking him second in the event all-time and less than three tenths shy of the world record. The steady progress made his performance at the Olympics a puzzler, and we later found out why, as it was revealed he was dealing with a hernia in his lower back during the Games. Provided he’s fully recovered, Sato will be a contender for the world title in the 200 breast in 2022. And given the progression he made prior to the injury, possibly could even challenge the 2:06-barrier.
#28: Elijah Winnington, Australia – Since the beginning of 2010, there are only four men that have been sub-3:43 in the 400 free, and three of them have won Olympic gold in the event. That would be Park Tae Hwan, Sun Yang and Mack Horton. The fourth is Winnington, who broke free from the plethora of 3:43s and clocked 3:42.65 at the Australian Olympic Trials in June, setting him up to enter his first Olympic Games as the odds-on favorite for gold. But things didn’t go as planned for the Aussie, as Winnington could only muster a time of 3:45.20 (in prelims and finals) to finish seventh overall, with his Trials time over seven-tenths quicker than what ultimately placed first. But this is likely just a bump in the road for the 21-year-old, who also made the Olympic team by hitting a PB in the 200 free (1:45.55) and then placed a distant 22nd at the Games (1:46.99). He’s made consistent drops in the 400, and now it’s just a matter of executing to the best of his abilities at the biggest meets.
Winnington PB Progression, 400 free (LCM)
- 2018 – 3:45.98
- 2019 – 3:44.68
- 2020 – 3:43.90
- 2021 – 3:42.65
Outside of Horton, he’s the fastest active swimmer in the 400 free, and while it’s now unclear how many of Australia’s best will line up at Worlds in 2022, Winnington will be among the favorites if he is. The Queensland native was also a valuable member of the London Roar in the ISL’s inaugural season, and would be a solid scorer in the league if he were to return at some point.
#27: Chase Kalisz, USA – Kalisz has always shown up when it counts, which made his 10th-place finish in the 400 IM at the 2019 World Championships all the more perplexing. The University of Georiga-trained American had been on the podium at every major competition for six consecutive years prior to that, stacking up three World Championship medals (including 2017 gold), two Pan Pacific Championship medals (including 2018 gold) and an Olympic silver medal in 2016. So after missing the 2019 final in a pedestrian time of 4:15.62, Kalisz came back and achieved his lifelong dream in Tokyo, winning Olympic gold in 4:09.42. While the time wasn’t particularly fast (Kalisz was 4:05.9 in 2017), an Olympic gold medal is an Olympic gold medal, and some questioned whether or not the 27-year-old would have the motivation to continue in the sport after completing his journey to the top of the podium. But he was back racing less than a month later for the Aqua Centurions in the ISL, and as long as he’s in the field, the Bel Air, Maryland native is a gold medal threat. The men’s 400 IM lineup is getting more crowded at the top, with nine swimmers sub-4:10 in 2021, with Kalisz’s American teammate Carson Foster leading the rankings in 4:08.46. So Kalisz will likely need to get back in the 4:07-range to be a gold medal favorite, but his ability to perform when the lights are on has pushed him ahead of some of his rivals over the course of his career and that may well continue in 2022. He’s also strong in the 200 IM, having been sub-1:56 four times. He snuck on the Olympic team in 2021, but ended up 12th in Tokyo.
#26: Noe Ponti, Switzerland – Ponti joined the elite sub-51 club in the men’s 100 butterfly at the Tokyo Olympic Games, rattling off consecutive swims of 50.76 and 50.74 to win the bronze medal behind Caeleb Dressel and Kristof Milak. Ponti, who was less than two months removed from his 20th birthday at the Games, also took 10th in the 200 fly, hitting a PB of 1:55.05 in the prelims, and is coming off of a silver medal-winning performance in the event at SC Worlds in December (1:49.81). The Swiss native is a burgeoning star with immense talent, particularly in the 100 fly, but he was also within a tenth or so of being ranked in the world’s top 10 in the 50 (23.39) and 200 fly last year. Ponti began the NCAA season at NC State, but returned home shortly after, and appears to be more comfortable in Switzerland for the time being. At least for this year, that move will probably be beneficial for his international medal hopes, with his focus remaining primarily on LCM. After winning bronze in Tokyo, Ponti will likely need to be sub-50 in the 100 fly to make his way any further up the podium. And while that’s an insane ask, racing in the same era as swimmers like Dressel and Milak will only push him to greater heights.
#25: Hwang Sunwoo, South Korea – Hwang made his way onto everybody’s radar in the Olympic lead-up at the Korean Trials in May, where the 18-year-old broke his own World Junior Record in the 200 freestyle by almost a full second in 1:44.96. Hwang had a phenomenal swim in the Olympic prelims in Tokyo, re-lowering the WJR in 1:44.62, and then in the final, attacked the race with reckless abandon. The native of Suwon, South Korea led the final by over seven-tenths with 50 meters to go, but faded and took seventh (1:45.26). He also had a standout showing in the 100 free, bringing his PB down to 47.56 in the semis before placing fifth in the final (47.82), and then topped the year off by winning the SC World title in the 200 free in Abu Dhabi. He’s also shown he’s not just a pure freestyler, popping a Korean Record of 1:58.04 in the 200 IM in October.
#24: Kieran Smith, USA – It hasn’t taken long for Smith to become the top American in the men’s 200 and 400 freestyle, parlaying his breakout 4:06.32 500 free in the yards pool in February 2020 with a phenomenal long course performance in the Olympic year. The 21-year-old University of Florida Gator swept the 200 (1:45.29) and 400 free (3:44.86) at the U.S. Olympic Trials, also taking a close third in the 200 IM, before further improving his new PBs in Tokyo. Smith won bronze in the 400 free (3:43.94), took sixth in the 200 free (1:45.12), and then moved up to #3 all-time among Americans in the 200 free leading off the 800 free relay (1:44.74), trailing only Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. The Ridgefield, Conn., native finished 2021 ranked seventh worldwide in both events, and in December, recorded four top-six finishes individually at SC Worlds. The men’s 200/400 freestyle scene is currently full of 1:44s and 3:43s, putting Smith directly into the medal conversation.
#23: Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy – Paltrinieri seamlessly took over the mantle from Sun Yang as the best pure distance freestyler in the world in the mid-2010s, rocketing to the 2015 World Championship title in the 1500 free in Sun’s absence in Kazan before rolling to a dominant win in Rio. The Italian has had continued success in the five years since those 2016 Olympic Games, but he’s no longer a singular dominant force in the distance free events. German Florian Wellbrock and Ukrainian Mykhailo Romanchuk recently began to challenge him for gold in the 800 and 1500 on the big stage, both having beaten him in the mile at 2019 Worlds, and then at the Tokyo Olympics, American Bobby Finke stunned all three of them by sweeping the 800 and 1500 free golds. The 27-year-old Paltrinieri did pull out a silver medal in Tokyo in the 800, but labored in the 1500 final and missed the medals. At the end of the year at SC Worlds, Paltrinieri saw his world record in the 1500 free get smashed by Wellbrock in a mind-boggling 14:06.88, though Paltrinieri did get a win over him in the 800 free at SC Euros one month earlier, setting a new European Record of 7:27.99. It’s easy to forget that Paltrinieri is only a year and a half removed from going 14:33.10 in the 1500—over six seconds faster than what won gold at the Olympics—but he only managed a 14:45.01 in the Tokyo final. There’s also the prospect that his focus will veer more towards open water in the coming years. So while Paltrinieri is still a medal contender in the distance frees, he likely lines up fourth—or maybe even fifth with the emergence of Ahmed Hafnaoui—on the depth chart after what we saw in Tokyo.
#22: Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy – Martinenghi has emerged as one of the best sprint breaststrokers in the world, coming off a big year that was highlighted by a bronze medal victory in the 100 breast at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The 22-year-old Italian was sub-58.5 five times in 2021 (best of 58.28), and also hit a blistering PB of 26.39 in the 50 breast to rank second in the world. Martinenghi is also a top performer in the short course pool, upsetting world record holder Ilya Shymanovich to win the SC Euro title in the 100 breast while winning silver in both the 50 and 100 at SC Worlds, and will surely be a medal contender on the big stage in both events moving forward. The only thing standing in his way from being higher in the rankings is how stacked the men’s sprint breast events are right now, led by Adam Peaty, who is a huge favorite to repeat as the world champion in the 50 and 100 in 2022. Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the depth of men’s breaststroke at the moment, specifically in Europe, than the fact that Martinenghi was only fifth in the 100 breast at LC Euros despite breaking 59 seconds.
#21: Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine – Romanchuk falls into a similar category as Paltrinieri, having established himself as a top distance freestyler in recent years, but probably wouldn’t be penciled in as a favorite in any one event at LC Worlds. Romanchuk won silver in the 1500 and bronze in the 800 free in Tokyo, and has also picked up back-to-back World Championship silver medals in the mile. But given what Bobby Finke did at the Olympics, and what Florian Wellbrock managed to do at SC Worlds, Romanchuk is lost a little bit somewhere in the middle. But the Ukrainian is still a top medal contender. He’s been sub-14:40 four times in the 1500, including going 14:39.89 in May to win the Euro title over Paltrinieri, is coming off a strong bronze-medal effort of 14:11 at SC Worlds, and went faster in the Olympic prelims (7:41.28) than the time that won gold in the 800 free final (7:41.87). But with the guys at the top all relatively even in ability, Romanchuk hasn’t shown the closing speed (or the willingness to go out in the lead and hold on) that could push him above the others.