Name Your Race: Which All-Time Head-to-Head Showdown Would be the Best?

Name Your Race: Which All-Time Head-to-Head Showdown Would be the Best?

A couple of weeks ago, we asked our readers to offer their opinions for the title of Greatest Female Swimmer in History, since there is a valid debate on the topic. The feedback we received was plentiful, with fans of the sport not only supplying their responses but providing well-thought-out reasoning for their choices.

This week, we have a new question to present to the readership, especially our followers who value the rich history of the sport. We’re hopeful we will see similar participation to our initial query, and hope that our readers will be willing to explain their thought process in the comments section at the end of the article.

The Question: If given the chance to set up a head-to-head battle between two all-time legends, who would you select, and in what event would they clash?

Phelps-SpitzPersonally, I would love to see a showdown between Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz in the 200-meter butterfly. While that choice is rather obvious and may lack some creativity, the opportunity to see the two greatest male swimmers in history duel in the discipline is too much to pass up. Between them, Phelps and Spitz established 15 world records in the event, with Spitz winning the 1972 Olympic crown and Phelps claiming three Olympic victories.

On the women’s side, a matchup between Janet Evans and Katie Ledecky in the 800 freestyle would be much appreciated. In addition to owning a pair of Olympic titles each in the event, Evans and Ledecky generated chasms between themselves and their pursuers. An eight-minute showdown between these distance greats is extremely appetizing.

So, what are your preferences? Feel free to suggest more than one head-to-head showdown, and we look forward to receiving your answers and presenting some of our readers’ thoughts in a followup piece.


  1. Pat Kennedy

    We were robbed of watching Goodell vs. Salnikov in the 1500 at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

  2. avatar
    Andy Ross

    Shane Gould v. Shirley Babashoff in ’76 is an all-time what if!

  3. avatar
    Gary Robinson

    Ledecky (8:04.79 in 800 Free and 15:20.48 in 1500 Free) versus Evans (8:16.22 and 15:52.10) can no longer be said to be an interesting “showdown” as the respective 11+second and 31+second margins established by Ledecky are just too large. Ledecky had the speed to win an Olympic 200m Free final and to anchor/swim a USA 4×100 Free Olympic (silver) and World Champs (gold) relay. Even in the shorter 400 Free, Evans (4:03.85) would trail Ledecky (3:56.46) by several seconds. The speed differential is just too wide. In terms of comparable times and technique, an 800 Free of Evans (8:16.22) versus Leah Smith (8:16.33) would be more revealing.

    • avatar
      John Lohn - Associate Editor-in-Chief

      Looking at the matchup from strictly a time perspective does not work. Of course they are faster these days. That is the nature of sport. You need to look at the potential matchup from achievements and their dominance in their respective eras.

      • avatar
        Gary Robinson

        I was not looking at the Ledecky-Evans race from a time perspective, I was looking at it from a “speed differential” and a technique perspective and whether it would be a good or “extremely appetizing” (yuck) “showdown” or “head-to-head battle” as you sought in your article. The very wide time differentials (which can’t be written off to suits/equipment/resources of different eras) and the two swimmers’ differing freestyle event capabilities serve to illustrate that it would not be a race worthy of selection. If you just want to throw two swimmers of different eras into a pool in your mind and list their accomplishments or achievements, I guess you could do that. That is something different though. Evans vs Smith would be a better race. (And btw, speed and technique are “achievements” too.)

  4. Michael Hollowell

    Just like the pic, 1989 Janet and current Katie in the 800m would be something else.

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