SwimSwam’s Top 15 U.S. Swimming Moments of the 2010s

Top 15 Moments of The 2010s (U.S.)

With the 2010-2019 decade officially ending, we’re looking back at the top 15 moments of the past ten years. With such a huge pool of moments to select from, we’re making two separate lists, one U.S.-centric and the other international.

Keep in mind that these aren’t all high points. They’re not our favorite moments – they’re the biggest moments, the ones with the most buzz, the most impact, the most staying power. Acknowledging that this is an entirely subjective exercise, we want to pull out and recognize the truest standout moments from nearly a full decade of covering swimming every single day as SwimSwam News.

Share your own most memorable moments in the comment section. Without further ado, here is our United States list:

15. Texas Puts 6 Men Into 100 Fly A Final At 2015 NCAAs

In the NCAA, the 2010s were a show of dominance for the Texas Longhorns, who won five of ten NCAA titles including a four-in-a-row run from 2015 to 2018. The most iconic moment from that run has to be its very beginning, when Texas accounted for six of the eight A finalists in the men’s 100 fly at 2015 NCAAs. Texas beat defending champs Cal that year by 129 points, crushing this 100 fly behind freshman Joseph Schooling and sophomore Jack Congerboth future Olympians. That was also perhaps the high-water mark for Schooling’s class, which went four-for-four in NCAA titles during their collegiate years.

14. David Nolan‘s 2011 National High School Record 200 IM Out-does NCAA Winning Time

Almost nine years later, it’s easy to forget just how earth-shattering David Nolan‘s high school career was. The Hershey, Pennsylvania swimmer broke the national high school record during his senior year, going 1:41.39. To put into perspective just how fast that time is, Nolan would have beaten every swimmer at 2011 NCAAs, which was won by Austin Staab at 1:41.57. In today’s terms, that would be equivalent to a high schooler going something like a 1:38. At the time, Nolan was 4th all-time in the event, behind Bradley Ally, Ryan Lochteand Michael Phelps.

13. Anthony Ervin Repeats As Olympic 50 Free Champ – 16 Years Later (2016)

Truly one of the most unique characters of the 2010s, Anthony Ervin had one of the signature moments of the 2016 Olympics. Then 35, Ervin won the 50 freestyle for a second time. The first? The year 2000. Ervin had an unprecedented 16-year gap between his Olympic titles, with some incredible stories in between. In his retirement, he auctioned off his Olympic gold medal on eBay to raise money for tsunami survivors. He’s a musician and rock guitarist. He also admits he experimented with drugs and battled depression. In fact, he returned to the pool as a way to help kick an addiction to cigarettes. And through it all, Ervin returned to the peak of the world in swimming speed, at age 35 becoming the oldest swimmer to earn an individual Olympic gold medal by more than four years.

12.Vladimir Morozov Splits First-Ever 17-Second 50 at 2013 NCAAs

Sure, the number 17 has since become synonymous with another NCAA sprinter, but few who were present at the 2013 NCAA Championships will forget the feeling in the room when Vladimir Morozov dropped a 17.86 split – the first split ever under 18 seconds – on USC’s 200 free relay. Morozov went third, and it was like the anchor legs didn’t even matter. When the number 17 came up on the IUPUI scoreboard, all the wind was sucked out of the room. It was less thunderous applause than it was shocked silence. A man had broken 18 seconds, and it felt like the world of sprinting might never be the same.

11. Michael Andrew Controversially Turns Pro at Age 14 (2013)

Go ahead, keep furiously typing your comments about how this story doesn’t belong on a list like this. It’s the most fitting tribute possible. When Michael Andrew turned pro at the age of 14, few had any idea how drastically his career would affect discourse among swimming fans. Andrew – then a many-time National Age Group record breaker in the 10&Under, 11-12, and 13-14 groups – wasn’t an Olympian or a National Teamer. He was just a kid – a very fast kid. His decision to turn pro with an endorsement from nutrition supplement P2 Life was one of the hottest topics of the next six-plus years. There were questions about how the spotlight would affect his development. Whether he was old enough to weigh the options before making the decision for himself; whether his parents (who doubled as his coaching staff) were allowing him to make a mistake. The Andrew family’s vocal commitment to the unorthodox Ultra-Short Race-Pace Training (USRPT) was another hot-button topic. While we wouldn’t say the Andrews brought about the nationwide shift in training from volume to quality (that had already been happening many years before 2013), they absolutely brought the trend wholly into the public eye, and into fan discussion.

10. U.S. Swimmers Caught Up In Rio Gas Station Robbery/Vandalism

It certainly wasn’t swimming’s brightest moment. But the Rio Gas Station Debacle was one of the most buzzworthy swimming stories of the decade, for swimming fans and non-swimming fans alike. It’s a tangled web of stories that never exactly resolved. U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte told U.S. media during the 2016 Olympics that he and three other American swimmers had been robbed at gunpoint late at night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But as that story swirled, conflicting information arose: Brazilian police said Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz had vandalized a gas station bathroom and were asked by security guards to pay for the damages. Lochte later admitted to exaggerating the story, and Brazilian authorities pounced, charging Lochte with falsely reporting a crime and trying to detain some or all of the four swimmers in Brazil as Team USA flew home. Lochte continued to deal with legal issues for years after the Olympics as Brazil fought to punish him. He also served a 10-month USA Swimming suspension and lost most of his major sponsors during the ordeal.

9. Regan Smith‘s Double Backstroke World Records At 2019 Worlds

Most SwimSwam readers should remember this one pretty vividly. Long considered the future of American backstroking, 17-year-old Regan Smith arrived a little sooner than expected. At the 2019 World Championships, Smith’s development couldn’t even be halted by a slim event lineup of just one entry. Smith dropped an absurd 2.7 seconds from her lifetime-best, going 2:03.35 in the World Championships semifinal to break a Missy Franklin world record by seven tenths of a second. In fact, Smith’s swim was so good, that with 100 back world record-holder Kathleen Baker coming off of injury, Team USA elected to use Smith as its medley relay leadoff. The decision paid off hugely, as Smith went 57.57 to smash that world record, and powered Team USA to a women’s 4×100 medley relay world record to boot. What’s most exciting now is where Smith goes from here – these swims could feel an awful lot like our #4 moment on this list if Smith goes on to a historic world-level career.

8. Missy Franklin Wins Record 6 Golds at 2013 World Championships

Though she’s now a year retired and several more removed from international medals, there’s just no way to create a top moments of the decade list without Missy FranklinThe iconic superstar won 28 international-level medals between 2010 and 2016 and was – for a brief time – the best swimmer on the planet. Franklin led all medalists at the 2013 World Championships, taking a then-record six gold medals. The 18-year-old swept the 100 and 200 backstrokes along with the 200 free, and swam difference-making legs on three relays in an American relay sweep for the women.

7. Simone Manuel Starts Upset Streak, Makes World History at 2016 Olympics

Sometimes, a race is just so good on so many levels that it looms large in history. It’s fair to say that the 2016 Olympic women’s 100 free is one such race. Despite Australia’s Cate Campell setting a world record just a month before the Olympics (and several years of storylines about how far the U.S.’s women’s sprinters lagged behind Campbell and the world), 20-year-old Simone Manuel pulled off one of the upsets of the decade with Olympic gold. The race was incredible, with a gold medal tie between two complete underdogs: Manuel and Canada’s Penny OleksiakBut Manuel’s swim was also critical historically: she became the first black woman to win Olympic swimming gold. That’s a major milestone for the sport, especially given the United States’ troubled history with racially-prohibited access to pools and the still-evident impacts on racial diversity in the sport. From a purely swimming perspective, Manuel’s Olympic win also set off one of the most exciting upset streaks in the sport’s history. Manuel would go on to win the next two World Championships golds (2017 and 2019), also in upsets of world record holders Campbell and Sarah SjostromMaybe next decade, we’ll finally get to meet ‘Simone the Favorite’, though ‘Simone the Underdog’ has been one of the most prolific characters of this past decade.

6. Fran Crippen Dies During Open Water Race in 2010

American open water swimmer Fran Crippen died in 2010 during an open water race in the United Arab Emirates. His tragic death at the age of 26 has made an international priority of safety conditions for open water races, particularly regarding water temperature. In the years after Crippen’s death, both FINA and USA Swimming passed rules about maximum water temperatures for open water races, and we’ve seen international federations pull their athletes from competitions over water temperature concerns. Highly-regarded as a competitor and heavily-respected as a person, Crippen is still honored through the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation as well as the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions in California each year.

5. Michael Phelps‘ Comeback Statement At 2015 U.S. Nationals

The 2000s were the era of Michael Phelpswhen the Olympic superstar piled up 16 Olympic medals and dominated the world swimming scene. But so great is the aura of Phelps’ long-running career that he even continued to overshadow the sport for much of the 2010s. Phelps unretired in 2014 after about two years away from the sport, but it’s his 2015 season that stands out most. Dropped from the U.S. Worlds team for a DUI, Phelps competed at U.S. Nationals in Texas, half a world away from where the rest of the world’s top swimmers were competing at Worlds in Kazan, Russia. Phelps put up world-leading times in the 200 fly, 200 IM and 100 fly, but it was perhaps his words that were most memorable. South Africa’s Chad le Clos won the World title in the event in 50.56, saying afterwards “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently. I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So he can keep quiet now.” Phelps responded with a 50.45 and a post-race interview where he said “I saw the times. I saw the comments. There are a lot of things I could say but I won’t. I let what I do in the pool do all of my talking and that’s how I’ve always done things.”

4. Ryan Lochte‘s 2011 World Record 200 IM – First WR in Post-Suits Era

For some of us, the super-suit era feels like yesterday, but we are now a full decade beyond FINA’s ban on buoyant, rubberized full-body swim suits. With world records plummeting rapidly in 2008 and 2009, the first year of the suit ban made it feel like it might be an eternity before anyone could take down any of the gaudy world record times. But Ryan Lochte changed all that in July of 2011, breaking his own 2009 world record in the 200 IM with a 1:54.00. For Lochte personally, the decade had plenty of lows, but this moment stands out as quite possibly his crowning high – a World title, world record, and rare head-to-head win over rival/teammate Michael Phelps. For the world, it was evidence just how fast the sport was continuing to move forward, even without the aid of bodysuits. Lochte’s swim – 19 months after the super-suits were banned in January of 2010 – was the first long course world record to go down in the textile era, and the first of the decade. Leaving the decade, only 12 of 40 world records in long course events still carry a record from 2009 or earlier.

3. Caeleb Dressel Goes 17.63 In 50 Free At 2018 NCAAs

There’s something about the 50 freestyle that just captivates swimming fandom above all other events. Maybe it’s the title of fastest man or fastest woman alive. Maybe it’s a product of shortening attention spans. (If you’ve made it this far into a 2800-word recap of a decade, you might be able to dispute that). Whatever it is, we could have merely titled this section “17.63,” and every reader here would know exactly what we’re talking about. Caeleb Dressela chief rival to Ledecky for the icon of this decade, has had plenty of long course swims that might resonate more with an international audience. But no matter how many great swims he puts up in the future, Dressel may be forever known for this one. The first man ever under 18 seconds in an individual, flat-start (not a relay exchange) 50 freestyle, Dressel was predicted by many to shave that barrier with a 17.9 or, optimistically, a 17.8. Dressel obliterated expectations and raised the ceiling on what we all thought was possible, going 17.63 for an insane NCAA title. Many have tried with many different methods to contextualize just how fast that swim is. The next-fastest swimmer in history was 18.47. Dressel’s margin of dominance over history is more than double any other world record-holder, short course or long. And you’ve never heard a pool deck quite so awestruck as the Minneapolis fans at the 2018 NCAA Championships.

2. Katie Ledecky Wins 800 Free Out of Nowhere At 2012 Olympics

The 2010s were the decade of Katie Ledeckyand that era began in 2012. Just 15 years old at the time, Katie Ledecky was a surprise just to make the U.S. Olympic team, dropping six seconds to win the event. But the biggest moment was at the Olympics themselves, when Ledecky dropped five more seconds to smash a Janet Evans American record and win a shocking upset Olympic gold. That kind of clutch swimming from the youngest American Olympian (of any sport) in London was a sign of things to come, kicking off eight years of dominance in distance free. Ledecky has since piled up 28 major international gold medals. She hasn’t lost an international 800 free since, with wins at the Olympics (2012, 2016), World Championships (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019), and Pan Pacific Championships (2014, 2018).


1. USA Swimming Publishes Names of Banned Coaches in Spring 2010

Bar none, the biggest sports issue of the 2010s has been athlete safety. Years of institutionalized mishandling, suppressing, or ignoring allegations of serious misconduct against coaches caught up to sport governance, from national governing bodies like USA Swimming to blanket organizations like the U.S. Olympic Committee. By the close of the previous decade, the issue was just starting to come into focus, but at the beginning of the 2010s, we got the two biggest steps in actually addressing the problem. First, on April 9th, 2010, ABC’s 20/20 did a long expose about the abuse coverups in swimming, which eventually resulted in: USA Swimming started publishing its list of banned individuals. Where coaches or other individuals were banned in the past for abuse of athletes or other misconduct, their bans were guarded, secretive, often protected by non-disclosure agreements, and the lack of public information often led to those individuals getting swimming-adjacent jobs, or other jobs that put them in position to abuse their authority further. One particularly egregious case was that of Everett Uchiyama, accused of grooming one of his athletes from the age of 14 and having sexual relations with her at 17. Uchiyama was banned from the sport… but because the ban was secret, Uchiyama was able to take a job as a director of aquatics at a country club just five miles from USA Swimming headquarters. To make matters worse, USA Swimming not only knew Uchiyama was still working, they wrote him a letter of recommendation for the job, failing to mention his lifetime ban for sexually abusing a teenager.

The situation is still far from perfect, and the process of dealing with abuse allegations far from finalized. More recently, USA Swimming began publishing its list of temporary bans, too. Then, in the wake of a massive scandal with former Olympic Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassarthe U.S. Center for SafeSport took over the investigative and punitive process, producing their own database of banned individuals. The Center is still streamlining its process, and has a ways to go on the subject of transparency. But publishing the names of banned coaches has been a major step that has kept those individuals from later regaining positions of authority with children. Think it doesn’t happen? Look no further than 2015, when a Canadian club hired a coach who had been suspended by USA Swimming for seven years. At the time, temporary bans weren’t published, and the Canadian club had no idea of the ban when the coach didn’t disclose it during the hiring process. But when we reported on the ban, the club found out and immediately terminated the coach. For too long, abusers have exploited a system that preferred to keep uncomfortable or controversial topics hidden in the dark. The publishing of USA Swimming’s banned list was perhaps the first major step of the decade in bringing the wide-ranging issue into the light so we can go about fixing it.

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3 years ago

Glad to see David Nolan on this list — despite painfully closely missing the Olympic team he should still be regarded as one of the fastest US swimmers we’ve seen. A 1:41 in high school was (is) absolutely insane, plus he was the first guy under 1:40 while at Stanford.

I remember seeing an article about him shooting for 2020 trials in some of the sprint events, hope that’s still the case.

Tea rex
3 years ago

I feel like Ledecky got short-changed out of like 5 moments. Blasting away from Friis to set the WR in 2013? 8:59 in the 1000? Mid-season WRs? Sub-4:00 like it ain’t no thing?

3 years ago

You forgot Dressel changing in the bathroom stall it should crack the top 10

3 years ago

That Ryan Lochte WR is a virtuoso performance.

He and Phelps are the two male swimmers who mastered all 4 strokes and combined them with incredible turns and underwaters. They swim side by side and stroke for stroke the entire race.

Phelps kicks in the afterburners down the stretch,
but Lochte stays in the lead to touch in a WR that still stands.

3 years ago

This list is missing 2016: Michael Phelps completes 4-peat in 200 IM at Rio Olympics.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Bossanova
3 years ago

This. Four in a row. Never been done before.

My Opinion
3 years ago

Maybe it’s just me, but if this list were as the title says, “TOP” moments, a number of these I wouldn’t consider as TOP. Memorable or significant maybe, but certainly not Top in a positive manner as the title were to suggest.

3 years ago

i honestly do think Farris’ 1:29 should be on here at most highly ranked 15th..or perhaps at most honorable mention but it really did break the swim internet. it was done so inconspicuously too, in the slower heat of the relays…and many, many olympic gold medalists have swum a shaved and tapered 200 yard free

3 years ago

Great article. I feel like Ervin’s last gold medal (16 years!!) is too low on the list. That was a truly incredible story. Behind Vlad’s 17. relay split you’ve got to be kidding me!? Also: not good for variety but you could have at least one more Simone race I presume you picked one to represent

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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