American Mark Spitz and Australian Dawn Fraser were named the greatest male and female swimmers, respectively, of the twentieth century by Swimming World Magazine, the sport’s magazine of record. The results of a selection by an international panel of experts, are published in the December issue of Swimming World.
“Choosing the greatest swimmers of an entire century was an incredibly complex task,” said Dr. Phil Whitten, editor of Swimming World. How, for example, do you compare a Johnny Weissmuller, who won five Olympic gold medals in the 1920s, swam with his head out of the water with no goggles, no lane markers, used an archaic start and did open turns with a Mark Spitz who swam 50 years later and won seven gold medals under much better conditions, but much tougher, deeper and better trained competition?”
“How does Sybil Bauer’s feat of being the only woman to break an existing men’s world record–in an era that discouraged women from competition–compare with Janet Evans’ three gold medals in 1988? What do you do about swimmers who were denied a chance for Olympic glory by organized doping, by two world wars, by boycotts, or by their country being banned from competition?”
“Making these selections was a daunting task, and I’m sure the results will ignite some controversy. But all the selectors, all of whom were immensely qualified, made impressive, conscientious efforts to inform their judgements.”
Spitz just edged Weissmuller for the top men’s spot. Third place went to American Matt Biondi, fourth to Australian Murray Rose and fifth to American Duke Kahanamoku. Australian Kieren Perkins, attempting to win an unprecedented third straight Olympic 1500-meter title, is sixth, American Don Schollander seventh, Russians Alex Popov and Vladimir Salnikov eighth and ninth, and American Adolph Kiefer tenth. (Places 11-25 are listed below).
Fraser was an overwhelming choice as the century’s top female swimmer with Americans Janet Evans and Tracy Caulkins second and third. Australian Shane Gould was fourth and American Mary T. Meagher fifth. Sixth place went to American Debbie Meyer, seventh to Danmark’s Ragnhild Hveger, eighth to American Shirley Babashoff, ninth to Hungary’s Krizstina Egerszegi, and tenth to America’s Claudia Kolb. (Places 11-25 are listed below.)
“East Germany swimmers from 1973 to 1989 were disqualified from consideration due to organized doping, as were Chinese swimmers from 1988 to the present,” said Whitten.
At the 1972 Olympics, Spitz won seven gold medals, all in world record time–the greatest performance in Olympic history in any sport. In all, Spitz set 26 individual world marks, swam on seven world record relays, and won 11 Olympic medals, nine of them gold.
Dawn Fraser was the first woman to break one minute for the 100 meter freestyle, and she won her specialty at three consecutive Olympiads: 1956, 60, and 64. She probably would have won in 1968 and ’72 had she not been suspended from swimming by Australian authorities after a prank at the ’64 Games. She held the 100 free world record from 1956-72 and set world records at distances from 100 to 400 meters.
Men ranked 11-25 Women ranked 11-25
11. John Naber (USA) 11. Helene Madison (USA)
12. Michael Gross (GER) Lorraine Crapp (AUS)
13. Charlie Daniels (USA) 13. Ethelda Bleibtrey (USA)
Mike Barrowman (USA) 14. Sybil Bauer (USA)
15. Arne Borg (SWE) 15. Penny Heyns (RSA)
16. Mike Burton (USA) 16. Donna De Varona (USA)
Roland Matthes (GDR) 17. Ann Curtis (USA)
18. Erich Rademacher (GER) 18. Tracey Wickham (AUS)
19. Ian Thorpe (AUS) 19. Karen Muir (RSA)
20. Hironshin Furuhashi (JPN) Amy Van Dyken (USA)
21. Tim Shaw (USA) 21. Jenny Thompson (USA)
22. Tamas Darnyi (HUN) 22. Hendrika Mastenbroek (NED)
23. Yoshiyuki Tsuruta (JPN) 23. Galina Prozumenshikova(RUS)
24. Jon Konrads (AUS) 24. Fanny Durack (AUS)
Denis Pankratov (RUS) 25. Gertrude Ederle (USA)