The Oldest Olympic Champions In Swimming History

This will be a part of a series featuring analyzing Olympic medalists in swimming by age, thanks to the data compiled by SwimmingStats guru Daniel Takata (@Swimming Stats).

After we took a look at the youngest Olympic champions in swimming history earlier this month, it’s now time to analyze the opposite end of the spectrum—the oldest Olympic gold medalists in the sport’s history.

As we discovered in the earlier article, swimmers tend to peak in their early 20s, with women sometimes doing so in their late teens.

As a result of that, it’s incredibly rare to see a swimmer experience success at the highest level after their 30th birthday. There have been just 11 swimmers in history to win Olympic gold after their 30th birthday, and only five of them have done so in an individual event.

The oldest Olympic champ in history is Anthony Ervin, who stunningly returned to the top of the podium in the men’s 50 freestyle in Rio (2016) 16 years after winning the same event in Sydney (2000) when he was. 19-year-old.

In fact, the seven oldest gold medalists have come in the last 20 years, due to legendary swimmers such as Dara TorresMichael PhelpsJason Lezak and Ryan Lochte having wrapped up their careers relatively recently. American swimmers feature heavily on the list, with the strength of the U.S. relays (and funding keeping American swimmers in the sport longer than other nations in certain cases) a factor.

Torres is the oldest female Olympic gold medalist, having won relay gold in Sydney at the age of 33. Eight years later, at 41, Torres won three silver medals in Beijing, including placing second in the 50 free by .01, which would’ve made her the oldest gold medalist by six years if she had pulled out the win.

Incredibly, with Torres missing that victory by a mere hundredth, the oldest woman to win gold individually is Inge de Bruijn, who was 11 years younger than Torres was in Beijing at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when she won the 50 free. Germany’s Ursula Happe is the only other woman to win individual gold after the age of 30, while Phelps and Duke Kahanamoku join Ervin as the other two men to do so.

20 OLDEST OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Anthony Ervin USA Sydney 2000 M 50 Freestyle 21.4 35 years, 78 days
2 Dara Torres USA Sydney 2000 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:58.30 33 years, 161 days
3 Jason Lezak USA Beijing 2008 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:29.34 32 years, 279 days
4 Ryan Lochte USA Rio 2016 M 4×200 Free Relay 7:00.66 32 years, 6 days
5 Michael Phelps USA Rio 2016 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:27.95 31 years, 44 days
6 Inge de Bruijn NED Athens 2004 W 50 Freestyle 24.58 30 years, 363 days
7 Brendan Hansen USA London 2012 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:29.35 30 years, 355 days
8 Cecil Healy ANZ Stockholm 1912 M 4×200 Free Relay 10:11.20 30 years, 230 days
9 Lou Handley USA St. Louis 1904 M 4×50 Free Relay 2:04.6 30 years, 206 days
10 Ursula Happe GER Melbourne 1956 W 200 Breaststroke 2:53.10 30 years, 41 days
11 Duke Kahanamoku USA Antwerp 1920 M 100 Freestyle 1:01.4 30 years, 5 days
12 Gary Hall, Jr. USA Athens 2004 M 50 Freestyle 21.93 29 years, 329 days
13 Rob Derbyshire GBR London 1908 M 4×200 Free Relay 10:55.6 29 years, 238 days
14 Ana Marcela Cunha BRA Tokyo 2020 W 10km Open Water 1:59:31 29 years, 134 days
15 Angel Martino USA Atlanta 1996 W 4×100 Medley Relay 4:02.88 29 years, 90 days
16 Calum Jarvis GBR Tokyo 2020 M 4×200 Free Relay 6:58.58 29 years, 76 days
17 Cate Campbell AUS Tokyo 2020 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:51.60 29 years, 73 days
18 Marleen Veldhuis NED Beijing 2008 W 4×100 Free Relay 3:33.76 29 years, 42 days
19 Petria Thomas AUS Athens 2004 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:57.32 28 years, 362 days
20 Yoshiyuki Tsuruta JPN Los Angeles 1932 M 200 Breaststroke 2:45.4 28 years, 317 days

Data Notes:

  • Not surprisingly, relays and sprints are a common theme, with only the 200 breaststroke (in 1932 and 1956) and the open water 10km (2021) breaking that trend.
  • There’s a fairly even split between men and women in the top 20—11 men and nine women—though 10 of the 13 oldest gold medalists are men.
  • Fourteen of the top 20 won their Olympic gold medals in 1996 or later, perhaps an indication of how in the early days, it was much less common for a swimmer to continue competing past their early 20s/college age.

20 OLDEST INDIVIDUAL OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Anthony Ervin USA Rio 2016 M 50 Freestyle 21.40 35 years, 78 days
2 Michael Phelps USA Rio 2016 M 200 IM 1:54.66 31 years, 42 days
3 Inge de Bruijn NED Athens 2004 W 50 Freestyle 24.58 30 years, 363 days
4 Ursula Happe GER Melbourne 1956 W 200 Breaststroke 2:53.10 30 years, 41 days
5 Duke Kahanamoku USA Antwerp 1920 M 100 Freestyle 1:01.4 30 years, 5 days
6 Gary Hall, Jr. USA Athens 2004 M 50 Freestyle 21.93 29 years, 329 days
7 Ana Marcela Cunha BRA Tokyo 2020 W 10km Open Water 1:59:31 29 years, 134 days
8 Petria Thomas AUS Athens 2004 W 100 Butterfly 57.72 28 years, 356 days
9 Yoshiyuki Tsuruta JPN Los Angeles 1932 M 200 Breaststroke 2:45.4 28 years, 317 days
10 John Jarvis GBR Paris 1900 M 4000 Freestyle 58:24.0 28 years, 177 days
11 Oussama Mellouli TUN London 2012 M 10km Open Water 1:49:55 28 years, 176 days
12 Vladimir Salnikov URS Seoul 1988 M 1500 Freestyle 15:00.40 28 years, 127 days
13 Ryan Lochte USA London 2012 M 400 IM 4:05.18 27 years, 360 days
14 Rie Kaneto JPN Rio 2016 W 200 Breaststroke 2:20.30 27 years, 338 days
15 Pablo Morales USA Barcelona 1992 M 100 Butterfly 53.32 27 years, 235 days
16 Wang Shun CHN Tokyo 2020 M 200 IM 1:55.00 27 years, 169 days
17 Maarten van der Weijden NED Beijing 2008 M 10km Open Water 1:51:52 27 years, 143 days
18 Chase Kalisz USA Tokyo 2020 M 400 IM 4:09.42 27 years, 140 days
19 Matt Grevers USA London 2012 M 100 Backstroke 52.16 27 years, 126 days
20 Katinka Hosszú HUN Rio 2016 W 200 IM 2:06.58 27 years, 98 days

Data Notes:

  • The data skews more towards men when we take out relay gold medalists, with 14 of the 20 oldest individual Olympic champions being male.
  • Fourteen of the 20 were also set in 2004 or later.
  • There’s a wide range of events in the top 20—all four strokes and every distance (outside of the 800 free) is represented in some capacity.

20 OLDEST OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS – FEMALE

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Dara Torres USA Sydney 2000 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:58.30 33 years, 161 days
2 Inge de Bruijn NED Athens 2004 W 50 Freestyle 24.58 30 years, 363 days
3 Ursula Happe GER Melbourne 1956 W 200 Breaststroke 2:53.10 30 years, 41 days
4 Ana Marcela Cunha BRA Tokyo 2020 W 10km Open Water 1:59:31 29 years, 134 days
5 Angel Martino USA Atlanta 1996 W 4×100 Medley Relay 4:02.88 29 years, 90 days
6 Cate Campbell AUS Tokyo 2020 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:51.60 29 years, 73 days
7 Marleen Veldhuis NED Beijing 2008 W 4×100 Free Relay 3:33.76 29 years, 42 days
8 Petria Thomas AUS Athens 2004 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:57.32 28 years, 362 days
9 Dana Vollmer USA Rio 2016 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:53.13 28 years, 274 days
10 Rie Kaneto JPN Rio 2016 W 200 Breaststroke 2:20.30 27 years, 338 days
11 Amy Van Dyken USA Barcelona 1992 W 4×100 Free Relay 3:36.61 27 years, 214 days
12 Jenny Thompson USA Sydney 2000 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:58.30 27 years, 210 days
13 Frances Schroth USA Antwerp 1920 W 4×100 Free Relay 5:11.6 27 years, 140 days
14 Sheila Taormina USA Atlanta 1996 W 4×200 Free Relay 7:59.87 27 years, 129 days
15 Katinka Hosszú HUN Rio 2016 W 200 IM 2:06.58 27 years, 98 days
16 Ilona Novák HUN Helsinki 1952 W 4×100 Free Relay 4:24.4 27 years, 77 days
17 Bronte Campbell AUS Tokyo 2020 W 4×100 Free Relay 3:29.69 27 years, 72 days
18 Emma McKeon AUS Tokyo 2020 W 4×100 Medley Relay 3:51.60 27 years, 69 days
19 Susie O’Neill AUS Sydney 2000 W 200 Freestyle 1:58.24 27 years, 48 days
20 Dawn Fraser AUS Tokyo 1964 W 100 Freestyle 59.5 27 years, 39 days

20 OLDEST INDIVIDUAL OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS – FEMALE

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Inge de Bruijn NED Athens 2004 W 50 Freestyle 24.58 30 years, 363 days
2 Ursula Happe GER Melbourne 1956 W 200 Breaststroke 2:53.10 30 years, 41 days
3 Ana Marcela Cunha BRA Tokyo 2020 W 10km Open Water 1:59:31 29 years, 134 days
4 Petria Thomas AUS Athens 2004 W 100 Butterfly 57.72 28 years, 356 days
5 Rie Kaneto JPN Rio 2016 W 200 Breaststroke 2:20.30 27 years, 338 days
6 Katinka Hosszú HUN Rio 2016 W 200 IM 2:06.58 27 years, 98 days
7 Emma McKeon AUS Tokyo 2020 W 50 Freestyle 23.81 27 years, 69 days
8 Susie O’Neill AUS Sydney 2000 W 200 Freestyle 1:58.24 27 years, 48 days
9 Dawn Fraser AUS Tokyo 1964 W 100 Freestyle 59.5 27 years, 39 days
10 Éva Risztov HUN London 2012 W 10km Open Water 1:57:38.2 26 years, 345 days
11 Michelle Smith IRL Atlanta 1996 W 200 IM 2:13.93 26 years, 221 days
12 Lucy Morton GBR Paris 1924 W 200 Breaststroke 3:33.2 26 years, 146 days
13 Natalie Coughlin USA Beijing 2008 W 100 Backstroke 58.96 25 years, 355 days
14 Yui Ohashi JPN Tokyo 2020 W 200 IM 2:08.52 25 years, 283 days
15 Mireia Belmonte ESP Rio 2016 W 200 Butterfly 2:04.85 25 years, 274 days
16 Rebecca Soni USA London 2012 W 200 Breaststroke 2:19.59 25 years, 137 days
17 Éva Székely HUN Helsinki 1952 W 200 Breaststroke 2:51.7 25 years, 117 days
18 Kirsty Coventry ZIM Beijing 2008 W 200 Backstroke 2:05.24 24 years, 335 days
19 Britta Steffen GER Beijing 2008 W 50 Freestyle 24.06 24 years, 275 days
20 Dana Vollmer USA London 2012 W 100 Butterfly 55.98 24 years, 259 days

Data Notes:

  • It’s notable how many women on the individual list won their Olympic gold medalists in 200-meter events.
  • It speaks to how young female swimmers peak given that three swimmers on the individual list are ranked in the 20 oldest before having even turned 25.

20 OLDEST OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS – MALE

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Anthony Ervin USA Rio 2016 M 50 Freestyle 21.40 35 years, 78 days
2 Jason Lezak USA Beijing 2008 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:29.34 32 years, 279 days
3 Ryan Lochte USA Rio 2016 M 4×200 Free Relay 7:00.66 32 years, 6 days
4 Michael Phelps USA Rio 2016 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:27.95 31 years, 44 days
5 Brendan Hansen USA London 2012 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:29.35 30 years, 355 days
6 Cecil Healy ANZ Stockholm 1912 M 4×200 Free Relay 10:11.20 30 years, 230 days
7 Lou Handley USA St. Louis 1904 M 4×50 Free Relay 2:04.6 30 years, 206 days
8 Duke Kahanamoku USA Antwerp 1920 M 100 Freestyle 1:01.4 30 years, 5 days
9 Gary Hall, Jr. USA Athens 2004 M 50 Freestyle 21.93 29 years, 329 days
10 Rob Derbyshire GBR London 1908 M 4×200 Free Relay 10:55.6 29 years, 238 days
11 Calum Jarvis GBR Tokyo 2020 M 4×200 Free Relay 6:58.58
29 years, 76 days
12 Yoshiyuki Tsuruta JPN Los Angeles 1932 M 200 Breaststroke 2:45.4 28 years, 317 days
13 Malcolm Champion ANZ Stockholm 1912 M 4×200 Free Relay 10:11.2 28 years, 246 days
14 John Jarvis GBR Paris 1900 M 4000 Freestyle 58:24.0 28 years, 177 days
15 Oussama Mellouli TUN London 2012 M 10km Open Water 1:49:55 28 years, 176 days
16 Vladimir Salnikov URS Seoul 1988 M 1500 Freestyle 15:00.40
28 years, 127 days
17 Fabien Gilot FRA London 2012 M 4×100 Free Relay 3:09.93 28 years, 93 days
18 Chris Fydler AUS Sydney 2000 M 4×100 Free Relay 3:13.67 27 years, 313 days
19 Tom Jager USA Barcelona 1992 M 4×100 Free Relay 3:16.74
27 years, 297 days
20 Nathan Adrian USA Rio 2016 M 4×100 Medley Relay 3:27.95
27 years, 250 days

20 OLDEST INDIVIDUAL OLYMPIC SWIMMING GOLD MEDALISTS – MALE

Rank Swimmer Country Olympics Event Time Age
1 Anthony Ervin USA Rio 2016 M 50 Freestyle 21.40 35 years, 78 days
2 Michael Phelps USA Rio 2016 M 200 Butterfly 1:53.36 31 years, 40 days
3 Duke Kahanamoku USA Antwerp 1920 M 100 Freestyle 1:01.4 30 years, 5 days
4 Gary Hall, Jr. USA Athens 2004 M 50 Freestyle 21.93 29 years, 329 days
5 Yoshiyuki Tsuruta JPN Los Angeles 1932 M 200 Breaststroke 2:45.4 28 years, 317 days
6 John Jarvis GBR Paris 1900 M 4000 Freestyle 58:24.0 28 years, 177 days
7 Oussama Mellouli TUN London 2012 M 10km Open Water 1:49:55 28 years, 176 days
8 Vladimir Salnikov URS Seoul 1988 M 1500 Freestyle 15:00.40 28 years, 127 days
9 Ryan Lochte USA London 2012 M 400 IM 4:05.18 27 years, 360 days
10 Pablo Morales USA Barcelona 1992 M 100 Butterfly 53.32 27 years, 235 days
11 Wang Shun CHN Tokyo 2020 M 200 IM 1:55.00 27 years, 169 days
12 Maarten van der Weijden NED Beijing 2008 M 10km Open Water 1:51:52 27 years, 143 days
13 Chase Kalisz USA Tokyo 2020 M 400 IM 4:09.42 27 years, 140 days
14 Matt Grevers USA London 2012 M 100 Backstroke 52.16 27 years, 126 days
15 Arne Borg SWE Amsterdam 1928 M 1500 Freestyle 19:51.8 26 years, 354 days
16 Adam Peaty GBR Tokyo 2020 M 100 Breaststroke 57.37 26 years, 210 days
17 Pieter van den Hoogenband NED Athens 2004 M 100 Freestyle 48.17 26 years, 157 days
18 Lars Frölander SWE Sydney 2000 M 100 Butterfly 52.00 26 years, 119 days
19 Kosuke Kitajima JPN Beijing 2008 M 200 Breaststroke 2:07.64 25 years, 327 days
20 Jeff Rouse USA Atlanta 1996 M 100 Backstroke 54.10 25 years, 230 days

Data Notes:

  • The ranking shows that it’s more common for male swimmers to achieve success at a later age than women, but not by much. The 20th-oldest individual male champion is just under one year older than the 20th-oldest female champion.
  • In our earlier article looking at the youngest Olympic champions in history, only two of the 20 youngest men on the individual list came from 2000 or later–Ian Thorpe (2000) and Kyle Chalmers (2016). In the oldest category, 13 of the top 20 come over that time period. That tells us it’s much more common for swimmers to be successful at an older age now than previously.

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Steve Nolan
3 months ago

That Adam Peaty’s already 16th on the men’s list makes me wish I could have placed a zillion bets on him not winning a gold ever again after Tokyo.

(This is the exact type data I was just guessing at when I started being a Debbie Downer about his chances, lol.)

Sportinindc
3 months ago

Ervin! Always amazed by his acceleration at 35 meters. One of my favorite Olympic races.

EverybodyWangChungTonight
3 months ago

Ervin 🐐

Thando-00
3 months ago

Im new in the swim world but I think that its great that there are some of these people who are still within the sport regardless of their age.

Last edited 3 months ago by Thando-00
Khachaturian
3 months ago

Going 1:54 in the 200 im in your 30’s 💀💀

Andrew
Reply to  Khachaturian
3 months ago

Facts

American swimming will never be the same without Phelps and Lochte

Joel
3 months ago

Why list McKeon’s medley relay gold in one list and then her 50 free gold in another when they were on the same day – actually within about 10 minutes of each other? I would have just listed her individual both times.

Rafael
3 months ago

High Chance Ana Marcela (If healthy) Surpass all on Paris

Seth
3 months ago

It seems like the swimmers competing highly in their 30s are good throughout their life, with few exceptions.
Am I wrong?

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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