The Tallest Male Olympic Swimming Medalists

by Daniel Takata 48

September 23rd, 2021 International, News, SwimmingStats

Take a look at the results of some swimming races at the last Olympic Games, and you probably will have little doubt that swimming is a sport for tall athletes.

According to the World Health Organization, “The expected average height of a healthy population should be 163 cm for women and 176.5 cm for men.” In fact, it would be very difficult to find Olympic medalists below those figures in recent Olympics, which reinforces the motto: Elite level swimmers are above average in terms of height.

In fact, at the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese swimmer Tomoru Honda, the bronze medalist in the men’s 200 fly, was the only male swimmer to win a medal in an individual event being under 1.80 m tall (he is 1.72 m – 5 ft 8 in). On the women’s side, there were only two swimmers who won medals in individual events being under 1.70 m tall: Canadian Maggie MacNeil and American Hali Flickinger.

It seems obvious. Height helps swimmers swim fast. Having a length advantage gives them more surface area to propel themselves forward with. Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published the list of the tallest Olympic swimming medal winners in men’s individual events since 1960.

Brazilian Gustavo Borges and American Matt Grevers are the tallest ones, being 2.03 cm tall (6 ft 8 in). Borges won four medals in freestyle events between 1992 and 2004, and backstroker Grevers won six medals in 2008 and 2012, including the gold in the 100 back in 2012.

Borges was part of the tallest podium ever seen in Olympic swimming history, alongside two swimmers who are also on this list. In the men’s 100 freestyle at the 1992 Olympics, the medalists were Russian Alexander Popov (2.00 m), Borges (2.03 m), and French Stephan Caron (2.00 m). They combined for an average height of 2.01 m.

Since the list comprises only medal winners in individual events, two swimmers who probably are the tallest to win Olympic medals are not on it: German swimmers Bengt and Bjorn Zigarsky, who won bronze medals as members of the German 4×100 freestyle team in 1996. Bengt was 204 cm tall (6 ft 9 in). Bjorn was even taller: 208 cm (6 ft 10 in).

There are conflicting numbers regarding Dutchman Maarten van der Weijden‘s height. He was the Olympic champion of the inaugural marathon swimming 10 km race in 2008. Official data from IOC lists him as 2.02 m tall, but according to some sources he is 2.04 m and even 2.05 m, which would move him to the top of the list.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Frenchman Florent Manaudou was the tallest swimmer to win a medal. Being 1.99 m tall (6 ft 6 in), he won the silver medal in the men’s 50 freestyle.

Trivia: Until the 1990s, the tallest swimmer to win Olympic medals was West German Michael Gross. He was known as “The Albatross” because of his incredible wide arm span that strecthes seven feet – 2.13 m. However, Gustavo Borges has an even larger wingspan: 2.24 m (7 ft 3 in), which is probably the widest arm span ever registered in elite swimming.

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SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

Cool stuff!!
how about the shortest?

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

Seto at 1.74 probably up there, at least if you restrict to reasonably modern Games.

Rafael
Reply to  SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

Men side prado maybe? Under 1,70

Danjohnrob
Reply to  SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

It’s got to be a breastroker!

HJones
Reply to  SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

A few Japanese swimmers come to mind:

Tomoru Honda: 1.72m
Naito Ehara: 1.72m
Daiya Seto: 1.74m

It would be interesting to consider who is the shortest non-Japanese Olympic medalist. Although he never won a medal, the great Gil Stovall is 1.72m. Also, I’m not so sure Erik Vendt is the 5’11” that he is listed, I’d guess he is really 5’9″ and some change.

Rafael
Reply to  HJones
2 months ago

Ricardo prado is 1,68..

HJones
Reply to  Rafael
2 months ago

I was thinking in more modern sense, where the sport has gravitated towards taller athletes and even 6 ft as a swimmer is below average.

I think I’ve found the shortest medalist in “modern” games (2000 and forwards). Tomomi Morita, double bronze medalist in Athens in the 100 BK and the medley relay, was only 1.69m! Best start in the field.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  SHARKSPEED
2 months ago

Jesse Vassallo from 1980/1984 has to be up there. Dudes tiny

Rafael
Reply to  coachymccoachface
2 months ago

Vassalo is 1,75

bigNowhere
2 months ago

Anyone remember Rolandas Gimbutis? I think he was 6′ 10″. He swam at several Olympics but probably didn’t win any individual medals.

2Fat4Speed
Reply to  bigNowhere
2 months ago

I raced him in college. He pulled away from me after the first turn and it felt like I was being passed by an oil tanker.

CasualSwimmer
2 months ago

Again a great article combined with quality data analysis ! Would absolutely love to see the other side of the spectrum with the shortest medalists

katie’s gator arc
2 months ago

that moment when the people on the list are too tall that even nathan adrian doesn’t make the list

He Said What?
2 months ago

Michael Gross was NOT East German. He was West German. Major mistake. Needs to be fixed.

Nance
2 months ago

Matt Grevers – the gentle giant … will miss him!

Torchbearer
2 months ago

I am sure everyone saw the story of the Iranian seated volleyball player at the Paralympics…8foot1!!! The worlds second tallest man.

Nc swim
2 months ago

Only reason I know Alain bernards height is bc of rowdy. “And Jason lezak is gonna have to make up some ground on Alain Bernard who stands 6 feet 5 and can absolutely fly”

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Nc swim
2 months ago

I just don’t think they can do it Dan

Just give the trophy to the condors already

Everybody hardcore swim fan knows those epic lines lol

dude

lol, great response. Honestly, that comment by Rowdy, as much crap as he gets for his ridiculous sayings, made the victory that much more glorious.