SwimSwam’s Top 15 World Swimming Moments of the 2010s

Top 15 Moments of The 2010s (World)

See our top 15 U.S. moments here

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 world list:

15. Yannick Agnel Goes 1:43.1 In 200 Free At London Olympics (2012)

Yannick Agnel‘s career was only a briefly-burning flame, but at its peak it was as bright as we’ve seen. The 2012 Olympic champ in the 200 free, Agnel was an absolute monster from 2012 to 2013. At the London Olympics, the French freestyler put up one of the finest swims of the decade with a 1:43.14 in the 200 free. Put into context, that swim is far-and-away the best of the post-super-suit era, ranking 4th all-time behind two 2009 swims from suit-hero Paul Biedermann and one 2008 swim from Michael PhelpsSince the ban of the suits in 2010, Agnel holds the two fastest swims in the world, and no one else has been under 1:44.3. A brief honorable mention here: Agnel’s 46.7 relay anchor on the French 4×100, running down the United States and avenging the 2008 loss on Lezak’s legendary run-down.

14. Katinka Hosszu Sets World Record In 200 IM At 2015 World Championships

One of the top swimmers of not only the 2010s but the 2000s, Katinka Hosszu went three Olympics without a single medal. As a 15-year-old in 2004, Hosszu was just gaining her footing. In 2008, Hosszu competed in two IM races, but didn’t advance past the heats. 2012 was the major disappointment, missing medals in 4th and 8th in the 400 and 200 IM, respectively. Despite a wildly successful career at the European level (and historic earnings on the World Cup series), Hosszu was eluded by two major milestones: an Olympic medal and a long course world record. She accomplished the latter in 2015, 26 years old and three years after she contemplated retirement in a disappointing post-Olympic season. Hosszu’s 2:06.12 in the 200 IM earned her the world record and Worlds gold. Winning the 400 IM for the third-straight Worlds, Hosszu found redemption from 2012’s disappointment, sealed her status as one of the world’s best all-around swimmers, and built momentum for her eventual Olympic gold medals (three of them) in 2016.

13. Camille Muffat Dies In Helicopter Crash (2015)

A tragic addition to the list: France’s Camille Muffat died unexpectedly in 2015, three years after winning Olympic gold in the 400 free. Muffat was dominant in that event in London, taking home the sport’s biggest medal, and she added a silver (200 free) and bronze (4×200 free relay) to boot at the young age of 22. Though her 2013 season was a bit disappointing, Muffat still won two Worlds medals. She qualified for Euros in 2014, but retired from the sport at 24. Sadly, the very next year, Muffat was participating in a reality TV show when two helicopters collided with one another, killing ten people including Muffat. A former French Sportswoman of the Year, Muffat was a swimming icon, and her untimely death at age 25 sent shockwaves throughout the sport.

12. Kristof Milak & Caeleb Dressel Take Down Phelps WRs At 2019 Worlds

Many of the great moments of the 2010s revolve around the next generation of swimmers interacting with the star of the 2000s – Michael PhelpsWith Phelps large shadow looming over the entire prior decade, his remaining world records have been some of the most prestigious targets for the modern generation trying to create their own legacies. So when two Phelps records went down within four days – courtesy of rising talents – the world took notice. Kristof Milak was the most unexpected. The Hungarian 19-year-old exploded at the 2019 World Championships, dropping almost two full seconds from his personal best to smash Phelps’ record in 1:50.73. Previously, Phelps had owned the four fastest swims in history, all of them from the super-suit era. Milak now owns the three fastest swims in textile, with a chance to loom as large over the event in the next decade as Phelps did in the prior one. Meanwhile Caeleb Dressel also broke through, going 49.50 to best Phelps’ 49.82 in the 100 fly. Dressel now owns the seven fastest swims in textile.

11. Alexander Dale Oen dies suddenly in April 2012

The defending world champ in the 100 breaststroke, Norway’s Alexander Dale Oen died unexpectedly in April of 2012. Dale Oen was just 26 years old. In his physical prime and at a training camp in Arizona, the world-renowned breaststroker fell into cardiac arrest. His death was sudden, shocking, and hard to make sense of: a world-class athlete in excellent physical condition, dying from cardiac arrest. Dale Oen was a national icon for Norway, an inspiration for his country when, just days after a terrorist killed 77 people in Norway in a senseless rampage, Dale Oen rallied for a World Championships gold.

10. Sarah Sjostrom Wins First Olympic Gold Medal in 2016

In many ways, the 2010s were about breakthroughs for elite-level talents who hadn’t yet secured Olympic medals. Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom was one such athlete. Sjostrom had been a world-level standout since age 14 when she won a Euros gold in the 100 fly. She set a world record at 16. Yet Olympic hardware eluded her in 2012 when she faded to 4th in the 100 fly and watched her world record fall. 2016 was sweet redemption for Sjostrom, though, as her first Olympic medal was gold in the 100 fly. Sjostrom did it with style, shattering the world record in 55.48.

9. Australian Swimmers Disciplined For Stillnox Use At 2012 Olympics

For Australia, the early part of the decade was marked by Olympic controversy. Despite high hopes for a talented group of sprinters, Australia left the 2012 Olympics with just three men’s medals, none of them gold. But even worse was the lengthy scandal involving Stillnox, a prescription sleeping pill. The Australian Olympic Committee banned the drug in 2012, but six key Australian swimmers – in fact, the members of the nation’s highly-touted 4×100 free relay – were accused of taking the medication as a substitute for alcohol as a method of team bonding. That team bonding, reports at the time indicated, included pairing the sleeping pills with energy drinks, running up and down hallways at pre-Olympic training camp, and pounding on teammates doors in the early hours of the morning. The relay, Olympic gold medal favorites, failed to medal at all with a wilting 4th-place finish. And the Stillnox Six as they were called, became a massive media scandal, earning a warning from the Australian Olympic Committee in a major ongoing national story for the swimming-obsessed nation.

8. 16-Year-Old Ye Shiwen Wins 2012 Olympic 400 IM With A Free Split So Fast It Creates Controversy

It was the swim so fast, fans literally refused to believe it. When 16-year-old Ye Shiwen roared home for 2012 Olympic 400 IM gold, her freestyle split was so otherworldly, it created widespread controversy about its legitimacy. Ye split 58.68 on freestyle – not only was that three seconds faster than any other free split in the Olympic final, it was faster than three of eight splits in the men’s Olympic final. We’ve never laser-focused in on Ryan Lochte‘s freestyle split as much as swimming fandom did that week. The split carried Ye not only to Olympic gold, it also smashed the world record in the event. Some combination of Ye’s big time drops, the speed of that final split, and general fan distrust of China led to widespread accusations that Ye’s swim was somehow being aided by something outside of the rules – despite Ye passing her post-race doping test. Many compared her split to men’s Olympic champ Ryan Lochte‘s, though the two swam their races with vastly different strategies. Others pointed to her newness to the world stage, conveniently forgetting that Ye was the 2010 Asian Games gold medalist and 2011 World Champ in the 200 IM. Some called out her big time drops, apparently surprised a teenager could drop time in large chunks. For what it’s worth, the record only stood until the next Olympics, but still remains the #2 swim in history. Ye, meanwhile, fell out of swimming stardom for several years following that race, but returned to the world spotlight this past summer with two silvers at the 2019 World Championships.

7. Chad le Clos Beats Phelps In 2012 Olympic 200 Fly

Another iconic 2012 swim: Chad le Clos handed Michael Phelps his first Olympic loss in eight years with a 200 fly touchout. To that point, Phelps was extending Olympic win streaks in four individual events. The American had won 2004 and 2008 golds in the 100 fly, 200 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM. Later in the 2012 London Olympics, he’d make it three straight in the 200 IM. But South Africa’s le Clos came through with a .05-second touchout of Phelps in the 200 fly to deny the threepeat. The swim cemented le Clos as one of Phelps’ best-known rivals. It also led to a super-weird but lovable interview with le Clos’ father, who epitomized ‘proud dad’ in the most oddly endearing way.

6. Duncan Scott Serves Up Legendary Relay Anchor at 2019 Worlds

Call it recency bias, but we think this one will rank up there for a long time. At 2019 Worlds, Duncan Scott came up with swimming’s best highlight-reel play: a relay run-down. The British 22-year-old split a massive 46.14 to run down the United States for gold in the men’s medley relay. The split stands up as the 2nd-fastest in world history, and by far the fastest in textile. Scott’s swim erased a 1.1-second U.S. lead, a margin usually pretty insurmountable at the elite level. And it wasn’t even close at the finish, with the Brits winning by half a second. The swim was a breakthrough for the British men, who had been steadily chasing the United States in the medley relay for years, but settled for silver at both the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds.

5. 2019’s Roller Coaster Men’s 200 Free: Gold-Medal DQ & Contentious Podium Protests

This race had more drama than any we can recall in this decade. First, there was the finish. Danas Rapsys appeared to have won the 200 free, which would have been just the 2nd gold ever for the nation of Lithuania. But Rapsys was shockingly disqualified for movement on the blocks. The Lithuanian federation protested, claiming officials didn’t follow proper protocol or cite a specific rule violation, but the DQ ultimately stood. But that was just the beginning. The DQ moved China’s Sun Yang into gold medal position. Sun was the controversial swimmer of the meet, having just escaped a lifetime-ban for what would have been his second anti-doping violation – that hot-button case revolved around a lack of authorization for the doping control workers, but erupted into protests at the World Championships when Sun won two golds. Great Britain’s Duncan Scottmoved up to bronze with the Rapsys DQ, protested on the podium, refusing to shake Sun’s hand or pose for a photo with the medalists. (That came after 400 free silver medalist Mack Horton refused to stand on the podium next to Sun, coated with a layer of irony when news broke just days later that Horton’s Australian teammate Shayna Jack had failed a doping test prior to Worlds). Scott’s protest brought an outburst from Sun, who confronted Scott afterwards, appearing to say “You’re a loser. I’m a winner.” on camera. FINA issued warnings to Sun, Scott and Horton for their conduct, trying to stamp out podium protests in general. The whole ordeal was a roller coaster, spanning everything from controversial DQs to the intricacies of anti-doping laws to the concept of using the podium as a venue for protests.

4. Despite McLaren Report, Russian Swimmers Allowed To Compete In Rio Olympics

Another controversy outside the pool. When the 2016 McLaren Report alleged and detailed a massive state-sponsored doping program carried out by Russian officials, Russian athletes were thrown into limbo as to their 2016 Olympic eligibility. Various sporting organizations made varying decisions in response. Russia was blanket banned from the 2016 Paralympics. The nation’s athletics (track & field) team was also banned. The swim team was not. Originally, it appeared athletes named in the McLaren Report would be held out, as would those with prior doping convictions. However, that policy bounced around various organizations – swimming governing body FINA, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – forming an alphabet soup of governing bodies passing around responsibility for who would ultimately have to make the call. In the end, all 7 of the Russian swimmers originally banned were able to compete in Rio, drawing widespread criticism from fans and other athletes. Most notable: brash American Lilly King wagged her finger at Russia’s Yulia Efimova, later calling her a drug cheat in an interview.

3. Joseph Schooling Beats Michael Phelps in Phelps’ Last Race; 3-Way Tie For Silver

The end of an era: Michael Phelps swam his final individual Olympic race (at least, we expect it to be…) in Rio, ultimately passing the torch to the next generation of talents, but gritting his way to silver in one of the most exciting finishes of the 2016 Olympics. A 31-year-old Phelps was exhausted by this point. He’d swum 11 times already in the seven days of competition, and the only real reason he was still competing was the chase for four consecutive Olympic golds in the 100 fly. He’d already accomplished that feat in the 200 IM days earlier. Plenty of his top rivals were competing: Chad le Clos and Laszlo CsehAnd the race ended with a thrilling three-way tie between the three for silver, but gold went to young upstart Joseph Schooling, the American high school and college standout who brought home Singapore’s first-ever Olympic swimming gold. It was a highly-unexpected finish, and an iconic one for Schooling, Singapore, and for Phelps as the final swim of his legendary career.

2. Cameron van der Burgh Admits To Double Dolphin Kicks En Route to 2012 Olympic Gold

Breaststroke has come a long way this decade… or has it? The 2000s saw controversy over Kosuke Kitajima‘s underwater pullout technique, with his dolphin kick strategy quickly legalized by FINA. The 2010s saw the same controversy play out, but this time with multiple dolphin kicks. While rules allow the single dolphin kick Kitajima pioneered during his legendary career, the next wave of stroke evolution was athletes including two or more underwater dolphin kicks. While the technique can sometimes be purposeful, it can also be an accidental error, or a perfectly legal pullout that looks illegal from an official’s difficult view through turbulent water. But when 2012 Olympic champ Cameron van der Burgh openly admitted to using multiple dolphin kicks during his gold medal swim, the controversy really took a step into the limelight. Van der Burgh very clearly expressed a sentiment most breaststrokers had privately felt for years: “‘It’s got to the sort of point where if you’re not doing it you’re falling behind or you’re giving yourself a disadvantage. So everyone’s pushing the rules and pushing the boundaries, so if you’re not doing it, you’re not trying hard enough,” van der Burgh said. While the South African took plenty of heat for his comments, few seemed to realize the ultimate point of his admission: van der Burgh was calling for the introduction of underwater video review in order to level the playing field. ‘‘I think only if you can bring in underwater footage that’s when everybody will stop doing it,” he said. “Because that’s when you’ll have peace of mind to say, ‘All right I don’t need to do it because everybody else is doing it and it’s a fair playing field.” It’s worth noting that not much has changed – double dolphin kicks are still frequently criticized by fans, but only occasionally called at the higher levels. Video review can be used to overturn DQs, but officials are still making the original calls from above the surface, making the technique brutally hard to recognize through choppy water.

1. FINA Threatens Bans For 2018 Energy For Swim Event, Leading To Launch of ISL

The saga that dominated much of late 2018 has shaped much of 2019 – and still has plenty of space to carve out the next decade of swimming news. With world aquatics governing body FINA coming under increasing fire for a number of issues, many have predicted the rise of a rival governing body. But before that body had even officially launched, it was in harsh and high-stakes conflict with FINA. Organizers were working on a meet called Energy for Swim 2018 – ostensibly, a meet like any other. But the meet was organized by basically the same core group that was trying to launch the International Swimming League (ISL), an organization with a vision of spectator-focused meets built on high financial compensation for athletes. FINA and Energy for Swim organizers squabbled over the meet’s classification (an “international” meet would need prior FINA approval, for which the deadline had passed), with FINA rules calling for bans of 1-to-2-years for athletes who competed in an unapproved meet. Facing bans that could keep them from the 2020 Olympics, athletes weighed their options, but both sides later walked back their stances – ISL organizers cancelled Energy for Swim, while FINA claimed it had never threatened bans.

The kerfluffle was odd, and confusing, and kind of nitpicky. But the impact has been massive. Energy for Swim organizers gained credibility with athletes, and used the buzz from the controversy to launch the ISL, which completed its inaugural season in 2019, though with far fewer teams (and lower spectator numbers) than the original vision. FINA launched its own series, the Champions Series, which some called an attempt to compete with the ISL for athletes’ favor. Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu publicly called for professional swimmers to unionize in order to exert more influence on how the sport is run. Meanwhile Hosszu, Tom Shields and Michael Andrew filed a lawsuit against FINA on anti-trust grounds, trying to strike FINA rules preventing athletes from competing in non-approved meets.

We still don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be for any of these new leads. But moving into the next decade, the rise of the professional swimmer is arguably the top storyline yet to be concluded.

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1 year ago

That 58 still amazes me

1 year ago

Phelps didn’t win the 400 IM in 2012.
Surprised to not see Ledecky on here.
But good list!

Reply to  Drewbrewsbeer
1 year ago

Ledecky ‘s 800 free win should have been here because that launched her on the Olympic stage and career.

Reply to  tnp101
1 year ago

There is another article with top 15 USA swimming moments mentioned including Ledecky’s 800 free. I think the idea of this article is top 15 worldwide moments outside of the USA.

Reply to  tnp101
1 year ago

It’s on the US version of this list

Reply to  Drewbrewsbeer
1 year ago

Lol the downvotes. The article originally stated Phelps won the 400 IM. Also Ledecky.

1 year ago

Oleksiak first millenium baby to win an individual Olympic gold (any sport) deserves a shout

Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

But don’t all millennial baby’s get gold medals for participation?

Care Bear
Reply to  LittleMan
1 year ago

OK boomer

Reply to  LittleMan
1 year ago

I love when the generation who gave millennials “participation medals” berate millennials for getting participation medals.

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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