Post Olympics Rankings: Swimming World’s Top-25 Female Performers

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Emma McKeon (AUS) after the women's 100m freestyle semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Australia's Emma McKeon is the top female swimmer in the world -- Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

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Post Olympics Rankings: Swimming World’s Top-25 Female Performers

With the Olympics a little more than a month old, it seems only reasonable that the ranking of the best swimmers in the world should be based on the performances we witnessed over nine days in Tokyo. The Olympics are swimming’s apex, so Olympic success defines career résumés, and the athletes certainly deserve the opportunity to rest on their Olympic laurels for a while. So now that we have had some time to process the results of the Games, who are the top swimmers in the world?

As usual, we will begin with the women, and the obvious candidates for the top five spots are the five swimmers who each won two individual gold medals in Tokyo. Coincidentally, three of those five swimmers are Australians, and they led Australia to a resurgent Olympics, so it should be no surprise to see a heavy Australian presence atop this list. Each of those five swimmers produced some magical, emotional moments at the Games, but based on a full body of work, including relays, there is an obvious choice for the top spot.

1. Emma McKeon, Australia

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Emma McKeon (AUS) after the women's 100m butterfly heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Emma McKeon — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Emma McKeon is not a new face to the international swimming scene. She has been on every Australian relay at an international meet since 2013! But only in recent years has she finally started to emerge as a renowned contender individually. She took bronze in the 200 freestyle at the 2016 Olympics, but her development in the 100 butterfly and, more recently, the 100 freestyle and 50 freestyle convinced McKeon to skip the 200-meter race for Tokyo. Instead, the 27-year-old McKeon took bronze in the 100 fly and then won gold medals in the 100 free and 50 free, swimming the second-fastest time ever in the 100 free and moving into the all-time top five in the other events. She was the strongest leg on gold-medal winning 400 free and 400 medley relays and provided important legs on 800 free and mixed 400 medley relays that each took bronze. McKeon won seven medals at the Olympics, more than any female swimmer at any Olympics ever. McKeon was the most valuable female swimmer of the Olympics, and she is the top female swimmer in the world.

2. Ariarne Titmus, Australia

ariarne titmus, olympics, Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ariarne Titmus (AUS) celebrates after winning the women's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Ariarne Titmus — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

McKeon was dominant over the entirety of the Tokyo Olympics, but 20-year-old Ariarne Titmus got some consideration for the top spot since her performance in the 400 freestyle was the single best swim of any woman in Tokyo. Titmus stayed within range of world-record holder Katie Ledecky and then pulled ahead of her on the final two lengths, then held tough as Ledecky clawed back. It was an amazing race, and it took the second-fastest time ever for Titmus to win gold. She then won the 200 free in the third-fastest swim in history and took silver behind Ledecky in the 800 while staying not very far behind. Titmus also led off Australia’s bronze-medal effort in the 800 free relay.

3. Kaylee McKeown, Australia

kaylee mckeown, olympics, Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kaylee McKeown (AUS) celebrates after winning the women's 200m backstroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Kaylee McKeown — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

It’s a clean sweep for the Aussies in the top three spots. Kaylee McKeown was not quite as sharp in Tokyo as she had been earlier in the year — when she broke the 100 backstroke world record and became the third-fastest swimmer ever in the 200 backstroke — but she was pretty darn close. McKeown won a highly-anticipated duel with Kylie Masse and Regan Smith in the 100 back and then pulled away to lead an Aussie 1-3 with Emily Seebohm in the 200 back. She led off Australia’s 400 medley relay and touched first after her leg, giving her team just enough of an edge to take down the Americans for gold by 0.13. McKeown skipped the 200 IM at the Olympics to focus on backstroke, but she still holds the world’s fastest time at 2:08.19. And had she swum the 400 IM in Tokyo, she likely could have challenged for gold there, too.

4. Katie Ledecky, USA

katie ledecky, olympics, Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Katie Ledecky (USA) reacts after winning the women's 800m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

Thanks to the Australian dominance in Tokyo, Katie Ledecky falls a few spots from her position on this list at the start of the year, although she still has by far the strongest career résumé of any active female swimmer. If Ledecky was a shocking upstart at her first Olympics in London and then utterly dominant and record-setting in Rio, her Tokyo performance was about resilience. When Titmus challenged her in the 400 free, Ledecky dug deep for her fastest performance in five years and the second-best mark of her career. When she finished fifth in the 200 free final, she came back an hour later and took gold in the 1500 free. The next day, she posted a much faster split on the 800 free relay (the fastest in the entire field) to lead the Americans to silver. And finally, she added a bit of history when she won her third straight Olympic gold in the 800 free, becoming just the third woman to ever threepeat in any event.

5. Yui Ohashi, Japan

A swimmer sweeps the individual medley events at an Olympics and is just the fifth-best swimmer in the world? Usually, such results would generate a better placement for Yui Ohashi, undoubtedly the swimming star of the Olympics for the home country, but the three Australians and Ledecky were a little bit better over the course of the week. Still, Ohashi was masterful in both the 400 IM and 200 IM, using mastery of all four strokes to fend off challenges from teenage American challenges (Emma Weyant in the 400 IM and Alex Walsh in the 200 IM). Prior to Tokyo, Ohashi had achieved so much success on all levels, but she had never won gold at a global competition and she had never swum at an Olympics, let alone win a medal. She checked off all those boxes in two impressive Tokyo performances.

6. Zhang Yufei, China

zhang yufei, olympics, Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Zhang Yufei (CHN) celebrates after winning the women's 200m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Zhang Yufei — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

China’s Zhang Yufei is not a new name to the international swimming scene. She was a bronze medalist in the 200 butterfly at the World Championships back in 2015, and she has won two other World Championships relay medals. In 2019, she tied for 13th in the 100 fly and 26th in the 200 fly. But in the interim two years, she took an enormous step forward, and that helped her earn for medals in Tokyo, two of them gold. She blasted a 55.64 for silver in the 100 fly to finish just five hundredths behind gold medalist Maggie MacNeil, and Zhang ranks third all-time in that event. She then dominated the 200 fly final, with her 2:03.86 moving her to third all-time in the event and making her the fastest swimmer ever in a textile suit. She also played key roles on China’s gold-medal winning 800 freestyle relay (despite hardly ever swimming the 200 free) and silver-medal winning mixed 400 medley relay.

7. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa

tatjana schoenmaker, olympics, Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) reacts after winning the women's 200m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Tatjana Schoenmaker — Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

Tatjana Schoenmaker made her international debut in 2018, when she won gold in the 200 breaststroke at the Commonwealth Games. A silver in the event at the World Championships followed one year later. The 24-year-old owned the top time in the world in the 200 breast heading into the Olympics, but in the 100 breast? Outside medal shot at best. Well, she very nearly won the race, setting an Olympic record in prelims and earning a silver medal, ahead of defending champion and heavy favorite Lilly King. When she returned to her signature 200 breast, she came within hundredths of breaking the world record in each of the first two rounds before smashing through that record in the final, her 2:18.95 earning her Olympic gold and making her the first woman to ever break 2:19 in the event. Schoenmaker’s two medals made her the first South African woman to win an Olympic swimming medal since 2000 and the first to win gold since 1996 — when South Africa did not even enter a single female swimmer at the previous Olympics.

8. Maggie MacNeil, Canada

maggie macneil, olympics, Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Margaret Macneil (CAN) reacts after winning the women's 100m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Maggie MacNeil — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Despite entering the Olympics as defending world champion in the 100 butterfly, it was easy to sleep on Maggie MacNeil when swimmers like McKeon, Zhang and Torri Huske had been dropping impressive performances in the event all year. MacNeil, meanwhile, swam the final from lane seven. Her most amazing efforts in the two years since the World Championships had all come in the short course yards format. But she put together an amazing swim when it mattered. She turned seventh at the halfway point, but her signature closing speed (a 29.09 split that was almost a half-second faster than anyone else in the field) allowed MacNeil to secure gold. Her time was 55.59, making her the second-fastest performer in history. MacNeil actually won three medals in Tokyo as she helped Canada secure silver in the 400 freestyle relay and bronze in the 400 medley relay, where her fly split of 55.27 was the fastest in the field and second-fastest in history.

9. Lilly King, USA

lilly king, olympics Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lilly King (USA) in the women's 200m breaststroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Lilly King — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Tokyo was not the Olympics Lilly King had expected. She was unbeaten in the 100 breaststroke for six years, but both Schoenmaker and American teenager Lydia Jacoby finished ahead of King in that event. She was more than a half-second off her season-best time and a full second off her lifetime best. But King still secured a bronze medal in that race, and she was brilliant in the 200 breast, capturing the first international medal of her career in the longer race. She had spent years struggling to master the right strategy in that event, and she chose to use her natural speed. She faded down the stretch, but it paid off in a 2:19.92, making her just the second American woman to ever break 2:20 and earning her a silver medal. Even without being perfect, King was still one of the best breaststrokers in the world this year.

10. Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong

siobhan haughey, olympics-Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Siobahn Bernadette Haughey (HKG) in the women's 100m semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Siobhan Haughey — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Siobhan Haughey was certainly a medal threat heading into the Tokyo Olympics, particularly in a 200 freestyle where she placed fourth and just two tenths off the podium at the 2019 World Championships. But Haughey came close to stealing the gold medal away from the favorites as she led at the 100-meter mark and then led by more than a half-second at the final turn. Ariarne Titmus ended up passing her, but Haughey ended up with a very impressive silver medal and a final time of 1:53.92 that made her the fifth-fastest performer in history behind Federica Pellegrini, Titmus, Allison Schmitt and Katie Ledecky. But where Haughey really surprised people was in the 100 free, an event where she tied for 10th at the 2019 Worlds. In Tokyo, Haughey tried to stick with favorite Emma McKeon and ended up earning a silver medal, her time of 52.27 dropping seven tenths from her best time and moving her into a tie for sixth all-time.

11. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden

sarah sjostrom, olympics, Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Sarah Sjoestroem (SWE) with her silver medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 50m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Sarah Sjostrom — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Sarah Sjostrom left Tokyo with a single silver medal. And that’s a phenomenal performance for the 27-year-old from near Stockholm. Sjostrom fractured her elbow in February and went through a months-long recovery process to try to get back to close to top form prior to Tokyo. She ended up finishing seventh in the 100 fly and fifth in the 100 free, both events where she holds the world record, but her best chance at a medal in this comeback was in the 50 freestyle, and there she earned the silver in 24.07. Her abilities to swim very respectable times with less-than-perfect preparation indicate that Sjostrom still has a lot left in the tank, which we could see in the next few months on the short course circuit. The full picture of Sjostrom’s swimming career maintains her high ranking here.

12. Lydia Jacoby, USA

lydia jacoby, olympics, Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lydia Jacoby (USA) with her gold medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 100m breaststroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Lydia Jacoby — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Here we have the absolute breakout star of the Olympics. Lydia Jacoby was nowhere on the radar for even the most interested U.S. swimming fans as recently as early April, and before Olympic Trials, she was merely a longshot contender to qualify for the Olympic team in the 100 breaststroke. But it quickly became clear that this 17-year-old from Alaska — not at all a swimming hotbed and a state which had never produced an Olympic swimmer — was the real deal. She entered the Olympics with medal potential in the 100 breast, but gold was never on the table, at least not until she swam in the final and turned very close to favorites King and Schoenmaker. Then, Jacoby had the fastest second 50 split with her 34.21, and she won a shocking Olympic gold medal. Later in the week, she performed very well swimming the breaststroke leg on two American medley relays. Even with her goggles famously coming off on the mixed-gender relay, Jacoby still split 1:05.09.

13. Kylie Masse, Canada

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kylie Masse (CAN) in the women's backstroke semifinals final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Kylie Masse — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Kylie Masse was a breakout backstroker at the 2016 Olympics, when she earned bronze in the 100 back, and she has been a consistent international presence since. She arrived in Rio as the two-time world champion in the 100 back and she had gone under 58 for the first time in her career this year, but the path to gold was always going to be tough with Kaylee McKeown and Regan Smith in the race. Masse put together an awesome race to take silver, and she earned another silver in the 200 back with a gutty effort that saw her lead through 150 meters before McKeown accelerated to a different gear on the last 50. And Masse was the leadoff leg on Canada’s bronze-medal-winning 400 medley relay. She has been a rock for a young and still rising Canadian women’s program over the past few years.

14. Regan Smith, USA

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Regan Smith (USA) celebrates her bronze medal in the women's 100m backstroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Regan Smith — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

2021 was a mixed bag for Regan Smith. She won her first Olympic medals and emerged as one of the world’s top 200 butterflyers as she stormed home to win Olympic silver in the event, her 2:05.30 moving her to 13th all-time and second among Americans. But in the backstroke events, she could not find the world-record-breaking form she showed in 2019. She ended up with an Olympic bronze medal in the 100 back, although at one point she did swim a 57.64 that is just seven hundredths off her best time, but she did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in the 200 back, where she still holds the world record. The one-year delay of the Olympics was definitely a detriment to Smith, but even though she has been on the international scene for years, she is still only 19 years old.

15. Penny Oleksiak, Canada

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Penny Oleksiak (CAN) with her bronze medal during the medals ceremony for the women's 200m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Penny Oleksiak — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Speaking of swimmers that have seemingly been around forever, Penny Oleksiak slots in 15th on this list. Oleksiak was the shocking co-gold medalist in the 100 freestyle in 2016 when she was just 16 years old, and she had some significant struggles during the five-year period between Rio and Tokyo, but she was really good this time. She anchored Canada’s 400 freestyle relay in 52.26 to pull her squad three hundredths ahead of the United States (and Simone Manuel, with whom she tied for the 100 free Olympic gold five years ago) for the silver medal. After taking silver in the 100 fly in Rio, she did not swim the event, but she did earn a bronze medal in the 200 free, plus another bronze on the 400 medley relay. Oleksiak also took fourth in the 100 free — despite beating her winning time from the last Games. She now owns seven Olympic medals, more than any Canadian Olympian in any sport, summer or winter, ever.

16. Cate Campbell, Australia

Jul 30, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Cate Campbell (AUS) celebrates after finishing third in the women's 100m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports

Cate Campbell — Photo Courtesy: Grace Hollars/USA Today Sports

Gone are the days when Cate Campbell is the consensus top female sprinter in the world, as she was prior to the 2016 Olympics. But at age 29 and in her fourth Olympics, Campbell got a measure of redemption after fading badly in the 100 freestyle final five years earlier by hanging tough and earning a bronze medal. Campbell also has history as a clutch and consistent relay performer for Australia, and she was just that in Tokyo, bringing home the 400 free relay and 400 medley relay to gold medals. Her splits were not in the 50-second-range she has previously touched, but just the presence of Cate Campbell on the anchor leg remains daunting for her opponent.

17. Hali Flickinger, USA

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; during the women's 400m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Hali Flickinger — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Hali Flickinger swam in her second Olympics in Tokyo and earned two bronze medals, maybe a slight disappointment considering she had aspirations of gold in the 200 butterfly after recording the world’s fastest time in 2019, but consider how far Flickinger had come in five years. Back in 2016, she was barely an Olympic finalist in one event, and she did not make the World Championships final in the 200 fly in 2017. She has been front and center in every major final in that event ever since. Meanwhile, she swam the 400 IM internationally for the first time this year and earned a bronze medal — all after spending years insisting she hated the 400 IM and would not compete in it. Flickinger’s versatility and consistency across several years gives her this spot.

18. Alex Walsh, USA

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Alex Walsh (USA) before the women's 200m individual medley semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Alex Walsh had never qualified for a senior U.S. team before this year, when she won the 200 IM at U.S. Olympic Trials, but she completely looked like she belonged on that stage in Tokyo. She earned an Olympic silver in the 200 IM after holding the lead in the Olympic final through 150 meters. Freestyle is probably her weakest stroke, but she was fighting hard to keep pace with Japanese Olympic champion Yui Ohashi down the stretch. So now, Walsh is a 2:08 200 IMer — but what else? Well, she is actually extremely versatile, even if she did not show it this summer. She is an elite backstroker (2019 Pan American Games champion in the 200 back) and breaststroker (particularly in short course). We might see Walsh, now 20, emerge as a force in some other events down the line, too.

19. Emma Weyant, USA

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Emma Weyant (USA) reacts after competing during the women's 400m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Emma Weyant — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

The third straight American on this list and the second straight University of Virginia Cavalier, Emma Weyant is another swimmer long considered an up-and-comer who looked the part in her Olympic debut. Weyant only swam one event at the Tokyo Olympics, the 400 IM, but she qualified first out of prelims and then posed a legitimate challenge to Yui Ohashi for the gold medal. She ended up swimming a 4:32.76 that ranks her as the fourth-fastest American ever in the event. Weyant deferred her enrollment at UVA for one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so look for Weyant to continue her progression into one of the world’s top IMers and maybe add some events to the program while in Charlottesville.

20. Yang Junxuan, China

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Yang Junxuan (CHN) in the women's 200m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Yang Junxuan — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

While Zhang Yufei was the golden face of the Chinese women’s impressive Olympics, Yang Junxuan played a key role by setting the table for a stunning relay triumph. Yang had been 1:54 in the 200 free before, and she had placed fifth in the event at the 2019 World Championships as just a 17-year-old. She did not swim her best in the 200 free final at the Olympics, placing fourth in 1:55.01. But Yang rebounded majorly one day later by leading off China’s 800 free relay in 1:54.37, well ahead of the bronze-medal winning time in Tokyo and good enough to beat 200 free gold medalist Sarah Sjostrom to the wall. Yang gave China momentum in that relay, and that would pay off as three less-proven 200 freestylers lifted China to gold. And Yang would get another shot at relay heroics as she held off Emma McKeon for silver as the anchor swimmer in the mixed 400 medley relay.

21. Erica Sullivan, USA

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Erica Sullivan (USA) before the women's 1500m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Erica Sullivan — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Every swimmer who won an individual gold or silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics is represented on this list, and Erica Sullivan is no exception. Sullivan, who turned 21 shortly after the Games, broke away from the 1500 freestyle field at the U.S. Olympic Trials to place second behind Katie Ledecky, and then overcame a large deficit to earn a silver medal in the final. In fact, Sullivan was as far back as seventh place at one point (at the 250-meter mark), and even one-third of the way through, she was four seconds out of second place. She was still fifth after 1100 meters. But she slowly chipped away and passed swimmer after swimmer, and her last 1000 was significantly quicker than anyone else’s, even gold medalist Ledecky. Sullivan earned silver in 15:41.41, sparking an emotional moment with Ledecky at the finish, and Sullivan now ranks fourth all-time in the 1500 free, ahead of Kate Ziegler and Janet Evans as the No. 2 American ever.

22. Simona Quadarella, Italy

QUADARELLA Simona

Simone Quadarella — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala/ Deepbluemedia /Insidefoto

Simona Quadarella was one of the world’s top distance specialists in 2019, claiming the world title in the 1500 free (when Katie Ledecky missed the race with an illness) and picking up a silver in the 800 free after a hard-fought duel with Ledecky. In Tokyo, however, she did not have that same form. She was in second place through the halfway point but faded badly and ended up fifth, 11 seconds out of the medals. But three days later, Quadarella would dispatch a challenge from 15-year-old American rookie Katie Grimes to claim bronze in the 800 free. It was a remarkable show of perseverance and grit after her signature event did not go as planned at all. Even though Quadarella’s time in the 800 free (8:18.35) was more than three seconds off her lifetime best, her ability to bounce back and her track record over the past several years are worthy of our attention.

23. Li Bingjie, China

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Li Bingjie (CHN) celebrates anchoring China to victory in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Li Bingjie — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Aside from 200 butterfly gold medalist Zhang Yufei, Li Bingjie was the only individual medalist for the Chinese women in Tokyo. Li first emerged as a force internationally as a 15-year-old at the 2017 World Championships, when she took silver in the 800 free and bronze in the 400 free. Two years later, Li did not make the final in either event. But in 2021, the now-19-year-old Li brought her best form to the Tokyo Games. In the 400 free, with the world engrossed by the battle between Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky for gold, Li produced a phenomenal final 100 meters to get past 14-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh and take bronze, her time of 4:01.08 improving her to seventh all-time and fourth-fastest ever in textile. A few days later, Li anchored the 800 free relay in 1:55.30, much quicker than her lifetime best and especially impressive with Ledecky anchoring for the Americans and closing fast.

24. Torri Huske, USA

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Torri Huske (USA) in a women's 100m butterfly semifinal during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Torri Huske — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Torri Huske did not win an individual medal at the Olympics, but she came really, really close in a very impressive effort. After swimming a 55.66 American record in the 100 butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Huske went out fast in the Olympic final and looked to be in the lead with five meters to go. But in a blanket finish, Canada’s Maggie MacNeil, China’s Zhang Yufei and Australia’s Emma McKeon got in just ahead of Huske, with all four swimmers separated by just 0.14. Huske’s time was 55.73, just 0.07 off her American record and a painful one hundredth behind bronze medalist McKeon. Huske would later rebound to earn silver as part of the U.S. women’s 400 medley relay with a respectable 56.16 fly split. At age 18, Huske is by far the youngest of that group of top finishers in the 100 fly, so expect to see her at the top level for a long time, and she also is talented in other events, like the sprint freestyles and even the 200 IM.

25. Summer McIntosh, Canada

Summer McIntosh-Olympic Swimming Trials-f-20june2021Photo Scott Grant

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

There are plenty of teenage swimmers scattered throughout this list, but Summer McIntosh is three years younger than any of them. She is just 14 years old, and while she did not earn any medals in Tokyo, she came really close. After smashing her best times all year, she chopped off another three seconds in the 400 freestyle to place fourth in 4:02.42, and she was actually in third place the entire race until Li bolted home over the final length. Then, after she narrowly missed the 200 free final with a ninth-place performance, McIntosh led off Canada’s 800 free relay in 1:55.74 to set up the Canadians for a medal run, although they ultimately finished fourth. Having that kind of improvement and success at just 14 has put McIntosh on everyone’s radar, and she will be on the list of contenders in the freestyle events as soon as next year’s World Championships.

ALSO IN CONSIDERATION (alphabetical order):

  • Mireia Belmonte, Spain
  • Pernille Blume, Denmark
  • Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia
  • Kathleen Dawson, Great Britain
  • Kate Douglass, USA
  • Katie Grimes, USA
  • Femke Heemskerk, Netherlands
  • Katinka Hosszu, Hungary
  • Boglarka Kapas, Hungary
  • Sarah Kohler, Germany
  • Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands
  • Annie Lazor, USA
  • Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia
  • Benedetta Pilato, Italy
  • Rhyan White, USA
  • Abbie Wood, Great Britain

4 comments

  1. avatar
    terry stormon

    Australia absolutely excelled in Tokyo with these females swimming extraordinary times

  2. avatar
    Penny Lee Dean

    I believe more Americans would have medaled in Tokyo if they had changed their pacing from Olympic trials to the Olympics. Too many went out too fast and died in the last half of their races. A great race plan is just as important or maybe more important than just out and out racing. The USA needs to get better at this before Paris. In Tokyo this cost the USA at least 10 medals and eight medal positions

  3. avatar
    Swimfan95

    Seebohm seems to be missing from this list….. Beat both the Americans to get that bronze in the 200 back.

    • avatar
      fdoc14

      She actually won a medal unlike some of the people on the list and in the other considerations haha

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