Our Top 100 For 2022 series continues with the 20th through 11th-ranked female swimmers for the coming year.
Rather than a ranking based on the performances that we saw in 2021, the series is geared towards who we expect to be the top performers in 2022.
The rankings are weighted heavily towards the 2022 Long Course World Championships, factoring in individual medal and world record potential, but we’ve also accounted for other major international events that will take place during the year. Note that long course gets a priority, but short course ability and ISL scoring potential are baked into the ranks as well.
We’ll be breaking down the top 100 into multiple installments, so keep an eye out as they’re released.
These lists are, by nature, subjective. If you disagree, leave your thoughts/ranks in the comments.
#20: Simona Quadarella, Italy – Quadarella has been the best female distance swimmer in Europe since 2018, having swept the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle at the last two editions of LC Euros, and has been in the medal hunt in the 8/15 at the last two World Championships. Though the race is usually for silver behind the dominant Katie Ledecky, Quadarella was the benefactor of Ledecky’s withdrawal from the 1500 at the 2019 Worlds, soaring to the gold medal by almost eight seconds in a time of 15:40.89. The Italian also gave Ledecky a good run in the 800 free, winning silver in 8:14.99, and then competing in her debut Olympics last summer, won bronze in the same event. Quadarella was well off her 2019 form in Tokyo, but still managed to get on the podium, and given that she only just turned 23 in December, should have many more years of high-end swimming in her. Her PB in the 1500 still ranks her as the second-fastest active swimmer behind Ledecky, and given her recent run of success at the European Championships, should be expected to feast on the competition there once again in 2022. At LC Worlds she’s certainly in the mix for medals, though the next generation of women’s distance swimmers will be hot on her heels in the lead-up to Paris.
#19: Kate Douglass, USA – 2021 was a massive year for Douglass, who proved she’s much more than a short course swimmer at the U.S. Olympic Trials. After a phenomenal sophomore season at the University of Virginia, Douglass was a finalist in all four of her events in Omaha, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in the women’s 200 IM. Douglass hit a best time of 2:09.32 to qualify for the team, and then went 2:09-low three times in Tokyo en route to winning the bronze medal in a PB of 2:09.04. In addition to the 200 IM, the 20-year-old also finished the year ranked in the world’s top 10 in the 100 fly, having placed a close third at Trials in 56.56. Douglass finished the year with a bronze medal in the 200 IM at SC Worlds, and has an incredibly high ceiling moving forward given she’s also an elite performer in the 50 free (24.54) and could easily nab an individual spot on the Worlds team in that event. The New York native is almost too versatile for her own good, as she’s one of the fastest breaststrokers the NCAA has to offer, but due to her jam-packed schedule in other races, hasn’t explored the stroke much in long course.
#18: Alex Walsh, USA – Walsh was tabbed as a future star from a young age, having set U.S. National Age Group Records in backstroke, breaststroke and IM on her way up the ranks. After winning three gold medals at the 2019 Pan Am Games, including two individually in the 200 back and 200 IM, Walsh essentially geared all of her focus towards the 200 IM for the Olympic year and it paid off in spades. The UVA sophomore hit a best time of 2:08.87 in the semis at the Trials in Omaha before winning the final to qualify for her first Olympic team. The 20-year-old then re-lowered that PB down to 2:08.65 in the Tokyo final, winning silver while finishing just .13 back of gold medalist Yui Ohashi. There’s no doubt that the 200 IM will be Walsh’s premier event for LC Worlds in 2022, but she’s got a ton of versatility and could very well emerge as a threat in any number of other events, including the 400 IM. Walsh was 4:42.1 in-season right before the pandemic, and recently made some noise in the SCY pool with an ACC Record 4:01.4 in November.
#17: Sydney Pickrem, Canada – Pickrem has been on the verge of winning a major international title ever since she engineered a big drop to win bronze at the 2017 World Championships in the women’s 400 IM. The 24-year-old owns elite best times across the 200 breast (2:22.63), 200 IM (2:08.61) and 400 IM (4:32.68), having won bronze in both 200s at 2019 Worlds, and came into the Tokyo Olympics as one of the medley medal favorites. Pickrem ended up dropping the 400 IM and 200 breast at the Games due to non-COVID-related medical reasons, and then took sixth in the 200 IM. The Canadian rebounded with a strong ISL season, scoring 181 points for the London Roar, and then won gold in the 200 IM at SC Worlds. Given her performance in Abu Dhabi, we should expect to see Pickrem firing on all cylinders in 2022, with numerous medals within her grasp across LC Worlds and the Commonwealth Games.
#16: Penny Oleksiak, Canada – Oleksiak is a proven big-meet swimmer. She hasn’t been racing often in recent years, opting out of Seasons 2 and 3 of the ISL, and has seemingly been putting all of her focus towards performing at major championships. It’s largely been paying off, as she followed up her breakout 2016 Olympics—where she won four medals, including gold in the 100 freestyle—with three more in Tokyo, including individual bronze in the 200 free. Oleksiak hit lifetime bests in both the 100 free (52.59) and 200 free (1:54.70) in the 2021 Olympic final (taking fourth in the 100 free, .07 off a medal) and finished the year ranked fourth and fifth in the world, respectively. At this level, it’s rare to see a swimmer who’s been competing at the highest level for a number of years hit multiple personal best times in Olympic finals, but Oleksiak did just that, and at 21, she enters 2022 riding a lot of momentum. She’s also an excellent butterfly swimmer, though that’s on the backburner recently, but she could make some noise this year having made the 50 fly final in back-to-back World Championships. She also won silver in the 100 fly in Rio, but that doesn’t appear to be a primary focus moving forward given the recent dominance in the event from countrymate Maggie MacNeil.
#15: Lydia Jacoby, USA – Jacoby stunned the world when she dethroned Lilly King and won Olympic gold in the women’s 100 breaststroke in Tokyo, registering a time of 1:04.95. While both King (twice at U.S. Olympic Trials) and South African Tatjana Schoenmaker (Olympic prelims) swam faster than that time in 2021, it was Jacoby who got it done when it mattered, setting her off into this year with a ton of expectations. The 17-year-old’s win in the Olympic final was certainly a breakthrough, but it was far from a fluke, having been sub-1:06 four times between Trials and the first two rounds at the Games coming in. Jacoby continued to accrue international experience after the Olympics, including getting in three swims at SC Worlds before she was pulled from the meet early due to COVID-19 protocols. It remains to be seen how competitive Jacoby can be in the 50 breast in the long course pool—outside of the opening split of the 100 breast, she doesn’t have any official 50 breasts on record since 2016—but given her progression from Trials to the Olympics, her combination of talent and ability to step up in big moments should see her vying for World Championship glory in 2022.
#14: Hali Flickinger, USA – Flickinger’s major international resume has primarily centered around the 200 butterfly since breaking onto the scene at the Rio Games, placing seventh in the Olympic final, but she put her incredible versatility to good use in 2021, adding a second individual event to her Tokyo lineup in the form of the 400 IM. The former Georgia Bulldog hit a PB in the event to snag second at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 4:33.96, and then won her first Olympic medal in the event by taking bronze in Tokyo. Later in the meet, the 27-year-old added a second bronze in the 200 fly, clocking 2:05.65. Finishing the year ranked third in the world in both events, Flickinger, who now trains with Bob Bowman at Arizona State, should figure into the medal conversation in the 200 fly and 400 IM for the foreseeable future, two events Bowman knows a thing or two about training for. Flickinger’s vast skillset also lends itself to the ISL, as she showed up late in the 2021 campaign for the Cali Condors and finished third in MVP scoring in the league final.
#13: Kylie Masse, Canada – Masse’s consistency is unmatched in the women’s 100 backstroke over the last five years, as she’s now broken 59 seconds a mind-boggling 31 times. That includes three swims sub-58, a barrier she first cracked at the Canadian Olympic Trials (57.70) in June shortly after Australian Kaylee McKeown lowered the world down to 57.45. Going up against McKeown and former world record holder Regan Smith of the U.S., Masse rattled off two more 57-second swims in Tokyo to win silver behind McKeown, and she also recorded her first PB in over two years in the 200 back to earn silver in 2:05.42. Since winning bronze in the 100 back at the 2016 Games, Masse has been ever-present at the big meets, including winning four consecutive major championship titles in the 100 back from the 2017 to 2019 (two World titles, plus 2018 Commonwealth and Pan Pac gold). The 26-year-old has also shown steady progress in the short course pool, earning triple silver in the women’s backstrokes at SC Worlds, and will continue to be a mainstay on major podiums for years to come.
#12: Lilly King, USA – King’s run of invincibility in the women’s 100 breaststroke was truly something special, having won the 2016 Olympic title, back-to-back World Championship gold medals in 2017 and 2019 (also winning the 50 breast both times) and the 2018 Pan Pac title. She went on an unmatched unbeaten run to start her ISL career, and appeared to be a no-brainer choice to retain gold in Tokyo. But the American star admitted to struggling with motivation in the lead-up to the Games, having accomplished a career’s worth of accolades in such a short timeframe, and ended up falling to a surprise bronze in her best event in Tokyo. The 24-year-old did come back with an impressive swim in the 200 breast final, claiming silver behind the world record-setting Tatjana Schoenmaker and joining the elusive sub-2:20 club. And while it isn’t an event she’s put any focus into over the last two years, King also saw her 50 breast world record fall at the hands of Italian teenager Benedetta Pilato in 2021. So while King enters 2022 as a gold medal challenger across all three breaststroke events at LC Worlds, she’s no longer number one with a bullet in any of them.
#11: Regan Smith, USA – Smith was a revelation at the 2019 World Championships, demolishing Missy Franklin’s long-standing world record in the women’s 200 backstroke in 2:03.35, going on to win the gold medal in dominant fashion at 17. And then, despite the fact she wasn’t swimming the individual event because the American selection took place the year prior, Smith was given the opportunity to lead-off the women’s 400 medley relay team in the final and took full advantage, breaking the world record in the 100 back while becoming the first swimmer sub-58 in 57.57. Smith also established herself as a medal contender in the 200 fly in the lead-up to Tokyo, clocking 2:06.39 at the Des Moines PSS just days before the pandemic hit in early 2020, and entered Trials as a favorite to earn a berth in all three events. The 19-year-old won the 100 back, took second to qualify in the 200 fly, but surprisingly faded late and missed a spot in the 200 back, taking third. Smith responded with a strong showing at her first Olympics, winning bronze in the 100 back and silver in the 200 fly, bringing her PB in the latter down to an elite 2:05.30. Including a mixed relay lead-off, Smith was sub-58 in the 100 back four times in 2021, and finished the year ranked second worldwide in the 200 fly. If she can get her 200 back to return to her 2019 form, or close to it, she’s in the mix for gold in three different events at LC Worlds.