SwimSwam’s Top 100 For 2023: Women’s #30-21

After the action-packed year that was 2022, we’re gearing up for another exciting year over here at SwimSwam, and part of that is releasing our third annual Top 100 list—check out last year’s rankings here.

We’ve taken a more statistically-driven approach this year, while also taking into account things such as potential, World Championship medal opportunities, injuries, and versatility. Long course is weighted more than short course, though performance potential in both formats is taken into account.

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.

Women’s Rankings:

#30: Bella Sims, USA – With such a wide-ranging skillset, it’s tough to get a read on what kind of impact Sims could make this year for the United States internationally. By qualifying for the World Championships last year in the 800 free relay, she didn’t race at Junior Pan Pacs, so we never really got to see her take on a full program in the summer fully tapered. She finished just shy of earning an individual spot at Worlds, taking third in the 400 free (4:06.61), 800 free (8:22.36) and 1500 free (16:15.87) at U.S. Trials while getting on the relay by placing fifth in the 200 free (1:57.72). In Budapest, she anchored the Americans to gold in the 800 free relay with a 1:54.60 split, and then went on to have a phenomenal short course season in both short course meters (FINA World Cup) and short course yards, setting new World Junior and National Age Group Records. Now 17, Sims, who will join the University of Florida in the fall, should be a key member of the U.S. team at the World Championships. In what event remains to be seen, but the 200 free is the frontrunner, but we could see her emerge elsewhere in long course in medley or backstroke events, where she’s been sensational in short course thus far.

#29: Shayna Jack, Australia – It’s been a rocky few years for Jack, who missed the Tokyo Olympics due to a doping suspension, and then after coming in as a medal hopeful in the women’s 50 and 100 free at the World Championships, she fractured her hand in the warm-up pool in Budapest (on the morning of the 100 free prelims), forcing her to withdraw from the meet. That came after Jack won the 50 free (24.14) and placed second in the 100 free (52.60) at the Australian Championships in May, both best times that ultimately ranked her fourth and second in the world, respectively, in 2022. The now 24-year-old had successful surgery and came back to win three medals at the Commonwealth Games one month later, including earning individual silver in the 100 free and bronze in the 50 free. While Jack ranked fourth and second in the world in her two primary events last year, she was still the second-fastest Australian in both, so she’ll have to be on her game at Trials, but she’s clearly established herself as a premier medal contender at the World Championships. After a tough stretch out of the water, Jack is back.

#28: Simona Quadarella, Italy – Quadarella has been among the top female distance freestylers in the world since she broke through and swept the 400, 800 and 1500 at the 2018 European Championships. The Italian native picked up the 2019 world title in the mile when Katie Ledecky withdrew due to illness, and has consistently found the podium at major meets, earning bronze in the 800 at both the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 World Championships. Now 24, Quadarella also repeated in the 800 and 1500 free at Euros last summer, and finished the year ranked fourth in the mile (15:54.15), sixth in the 800 (8:19.00) and ninth in the 400 (4:04.77). The main thing working against her is that she hasn’t lowered her best times since 2019, and is being slowly surpassed by the next generation of names such as Katie Grimes and Lani Pallister.

#27: Li Bingjie, China – Li is still just 20, but has been in the upper echelon of women’s mid-distance freestyle swimming for the last five years. Having swept the 200, 400 and 800 free at the 2016 Junior Pan Pacs, Li won silver in the 800 free and bronze in the 400 free at the 2017 World Championships at the age of 15. Although progress hasn’t been linear, the Chinese native has recently re-established herself near the top of the sport over the last year and a half, winning Olympic bronze in the 400 free and then claiming two SC world titles in the 400 and 800 to close out 2021. This past year, Li performed well short of expectations at the Long Course World Championships, though she still made the 800 free final and took fifth. She then obliterated the world record in the SCM 400 free in 3:51.30, but was forced out of SC Worlds after COVID went through the Chinese team. If she can carry her late 2022 momentum into this year, Li is a factor at the World Championships in a few different events, though specifically in the 400 free, there’s a stack of talent ahead of her.

#26: Yang Junxuan, China – After leading China to a gold medal and new world record in the 800 free relay at the Tokyo Olympics, having clocked 1:54.37 on the opening leg to rank ninth all-time in the 200 free, Yang won the World Championship title last year in Budapest in a time of 1:54.92. The recently-turned 21-year-old has now broken 1:55 in the event for three straight years (also going 1:54.98 in January 2020), and also has the potential to make an impact down the road in the 100 free, owning a PB of 53.02 and having split 52.7. But as the defending world champion, her true wheelhouse is the 200 free. Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus are the only others who have been under 1:55 in each of the last two years.

#25: Lani Pallister, Australia – Pallister really came into the limelight at the Short Course World Championships in December, as she rolled to a dominant sweep of the women’s distance freestyle events, including winning the 1500 by more than 25 seconds. The 20-year-old Aussie also had a very strong performance at the LC World Championships in Budapest, winning bronze in the 1500 free (15:48.96), taking fourth in the 400 free (4:02.16), and then after qualifying second into the final of the 800 free, she was forced to withdraw due to COVID-19. Had she raced the final, she would’ve been the favorite for silver, as her opening split in the 1500 (8:20.46) was within two seconds of what countrymate Kiah Melverton went to take second (8:18.77), and Pallister also went 8:17.77 at the Australian Championships in May. Finishing 2022 ranked third worldwide in the 1500 free and fifth in both the 400 and 800, look for Pallister to be a consistent podium presence in these events alongside Katie Ledecky for the foreseeable future.

#24: Lara van Niekerk, South Africa – After breaking the 30-second barrier at the end of 2021, van Niekerk became a consistent 29-point swimmer in the women’s 50 breaststroke last year. The 18-year-old South African finished the year ranked third in the world at 29.72, and won bronze at the World Championships, gold at the Commonwealth Games and silver at the SC World Championships. van Niekerk also took massive leaps in the 100 breast, as after missing the final at the World Championships, she broke through with a PB of 1:05.47 at the Commonwealth Games, winning gold over teammate Tatjana Schoenmaker. van Niekerk and Benedetta Pilato are on track to be mainstays on major podium in the 50 and 100 breast for a long time, and that includes this year, though they’ll have to contend with the likes of Lilly King and Ruta Meilutyte.

#23: Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia – Although the times were unsanctioned, Chikunova posted the fastest time in the world last year in the 200 breast, clocking 2:20.41 at Russia’s Solidarity Games in July. That edged out her previous best of 2:20.57, set in Tokyo, and then a week after turning 18 in November, she swam the second-fastest time ever in the SCM 200 breast in 2:14.70, just .13 off the super-suited world record. Given her age and trajectory, Chikunova would likely be everyone’s favorite for gold in the 200 breast this summer and next had the circumstances surrounding her home nation been different. In 2023, she’s poised to join the sub-2:20 club and challenge for gold in Fukuoka if eligible to compete.

#22: Benedetta Pilato, Italy – Given the wealth of international experience she’s accumulated, it’s hard to believe that Pilato only turned 18 on Jan. 28. The Italian has been one of the world’s premier sprint breaststrokers for the last four years, winning silver in the 50 breast at the 2019 World Championships at the age of 14, and then in 2021, at 16, breaking the world record in the event in 29.30. She’s now broken 30 seconds 21 times, including doing so in all three of her swims at the World Championships where she ultimately won silver in 29.80. Pilato’s 100 breast has slowly but surely been catching up to the elite level she showed early on in the 50, bringing her PB down sub-1:06 in 2021 before hitting a best of 1:05.70 in April 2022. She then won the world and European titles in the summer with a pair of 1:05-high swims. She’s one of the top contenders to win both events this year at the World Championships.

#21: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – After a history-making performance at the Olympics that included winning gold and setting a new world record in the 200 breast, last year was a quiet one for Schoenmaker, who opted out of competing at the World Championships and only raced internationally at the Commonwealth Games. In Birmingham, the South African native rolled to a dominant gold medal victory in the 200 breast in 2:21.92, with her prelim time of 2:21.76 ranking third in the world for the year despite being well off her world record of 2:18.95. The 25-year-old added a silver in the 100 breast behind van Niekerk, and her fastest swim of the year (1:06.06) ranked ninth in the world. As Schoenmaker ramps things back up in preparation for the 2024 Olympics, she remains the clear favorite for gold in the 200 breast this summer, especially considering the winning time at the 2022 World Championships was three and a half seconds slower than what she went in Tokyo. We also can’t overlook her ability in the 100 breast, where she’s been 1:04 multiple times and will be hard to knock off the podium if she’s back at her best.

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Steve Nolan
2 months ago

Pilato is still only 18?? I was gonna say she seemed ranked too high, but think that was wrong

Demarrit Steenbergen
Reply to  Steve Nolan
2 months ago

If I remember, there were some age issues when she was first doing isl in 2020

Reply to  Demarrit Steenbergen
2 months ago

Yes, I remember when they made the age rule and then started making exceptions so ENS wouldn’t be without their star breaststroker.

2 months ago

How is Schoenmaker only one spot above Pilato, Chikunova and Van Niekerk? She’s the WR holder and Olympic champion in an Olympic event, that’s not even in the same neighbourhood as their resumes

Last edited 2 months ago by Bud
Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

She and ZSC being ignored a lot lately.

Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

And it especially makes no sense to rank her behind Flickinger. Schoenmaker’s chance of winning gold and medals at Worlds are both higher than Flickinger.

Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

I’m guessing it’s because she didn’t swim either World Champs last year and her times weren’t that impressive. I agree that she has massive potential to win medals this year but if you based it purely on last year she didn’t do a whole lot.

Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

These lists are supposed to be predictive rather than just based on last year’s performances but I feel like they’re a bit safe this year after some of the choices getting mocked the last couple of years.

Keep Swimming
Reply to  Sub13
2 months ago

But isn’t this list is more about the potential what they will do this year?

That’s my understanding.

Reply to  Bud
2 months ago

You can’t be living from being a world record holder or an Olympic champion, I don’t dispute that Tatjana should be higher, but not much higher, if you think that her year will be worse than Benedetta’s or Lara’s. Their year 2022 was worse than theirs so I don’t see why you can’t think so.
We are not talking about the best swimmer or the most accomplished, we are talking about 2023.

Last edited 2 months ago by giatech
Reply to  giatech
2 months ago

I would take a middle course. You cannot “live forever” on your past CV …… when it’s the case that those peak performances are more than a few years in the past and there has been a clear drop off in one’s form. When we are talking just the year before then I think that at least the majority of her credit ” in the bank” has validity.

She had the lesser year as regards results and times but neither Van Niekerk or Pilato were “rewriting the records” with their times either. They are also both 50/100 swimmers and thus the smaller Olympic window than Schoenmaker.

This is in no way demeaning either Van Niekerk or Pilato and their highly… Read more »

2 months ago

20 flickinger
19 Curzan
18 katie grimes
17 zhang yu fei
16 kylie masse
15 Lilly king
14 regan
13 siobhan
12 alex
10 mollie
9 torri
8 sarah
7 kaylee
6 ruta
5 maggie
4 emma
3 summer
2 ariarne
1 katie

Reply to  Swimfast2
2 months ago

Thanks for making me feel like I’m on a first-name basis with all these ladies

Awsi Dooger
2 months ago

I like Sims but I agree with others she’s too high. Further indication that those late year short course events carried too much attention and weight. Quadarella is too high based on the simple variable of female distance swimmers as they reach mid 20s and beyond. As always, anyone who cites outliers has already flunked the first-thought test.

Pilato is not versatile enough to be that high. In Olympic terms she has one event. She won 2021 worlds in a depleted weak field given King not close to her sprint best.

Schoenmaker is too low. I don’t care about recency. On raw ability she is far superior to others nearby and who will subsequently be listed ahead of her. The… Read more »

2 months ago

World Aquatics has an integrity unit now. Hopefully it’s at least as effective as the athletics one.


Springfield's #1 Athlete
2 months ago

Fairly straightforward, Flickinger shouldn’t be top 20 as she really isn’t even #1 in the US at either of her events, and will be looking at bronze at best in both. Especially when Schoenmaker has a chance of winning gold.
Weitzeil did nothing last year, but even then she should’ve been on the list, the PSS swim came a bit too late but I’d have her above some of her teammate peers.
Sims I don’t even have making any individual, I prefer Gemmell and Grimes in their events with Weinstein coming in the future, and Sims is nowhere close in the form strokes. But not to say she isn’t talented, her SC times are excellent with 2 WJR’s,… Read more »

Keep Swimming
2 months ago

Not sure how I feel about Bella Sims’s ranking way above many individual worlds medalists.

There’s simply no justification.

Reply to  Keep Swimming
2 months ago


Last edited 2 months ago by Virtus
2 months ago

Have to agree with the overwhelming consensus that Sims’ inclusion in this bracket is exceedingly difficult to justify given many ranked below her have superior individual international CVs AND comparable if not better relay CVs, even for this calendar year.

Otherwise the other nominees are certainly defensible. Maybe 1-2 I may’ve swapped with the previous bracket and maybe the ranking order for some but in general, Sims is the only one for whom I cannot make a rational case.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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