Post Olympics Rankings: Swimming World’s Top 25 Male Swimmers

golden-goggle-caeleb dressel, olympics, Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Caeleb Dressel (USA) celebrates after winning the men's 50m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Caeleb Dressel after winning Olympic gold in the men's 50 freestyle -- Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

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Post Olympics Rankings: Swimming World’s Top 25 Male Swimmers

The title of the top female swimmer in the world has shifted on several occasions this year. Katie Ledecky, Ariarne Titmus and Kaylee McKeown have all been considered for that spot throughout the past several months, but at the Olympics, it was 27-year-old Australian Emma McKeon who seized that title by winning seven medals, the most ever by a female swimmer at a single Games. McKeon, who captured individual gold in the 50 and 100 freestyle, led an Australian sweep of the top three spots on our women’s top 25 list, followed by Titmus and McKeown.

But the No. 1 spot on the men’s list? That has not changed. In fact, the man who has held claim to the title of world’s best swimmer since 2017 reaffirmed his standing with a masterful effort in Tokyo, perhaps not his best meet by medal count and records but certainly his signature moment in the sport. This swimmer managed a feat so rare it had only happened three times in the history of the Olympics by just two men.

As usual, there were a lot of close calls in determining spots on this list, but it was performances in the biggest moments at the Tokyo Games that were the No. 1 factor in placement.

1. Caeleb Dressel, USA

caeleb dressel, olympics, Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Caeleb Dressel (USA) with his gold medal at the medals ceremony for the men's 100m butterfly during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Caeleb Dressel with his 100 fly Olympic gold medal — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Was there really any doubt about who would land in this top spot? In Tokyo, Caeleb Dressel captured individual golds in the 100 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle while leading the Americans to gold medals in the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays. He broke the 100 fly world record on his way to gold and swam the swiftest 100 fly relay split ever the following day in giving the Americans a medley relay lead they would not relinquish. Dressel has seemed destined to eventually win Olympic gold in all of his individual events for years, ever since he swept all three for the first time at the World Championships in 2017, but doing so at the Olympics required some big performances, such as holding off Kyle Chalmers in the 100 free (by just six hundredths!) and Kristof Milak in the 100 fly. On the other hand, his 50 free margin of victory was more than twice as big as any other in Olympic history. His three individual golds at one Olympics made him just the third man, following Mark Spitz (1972) and Michael Phelps (2004 and 2008), to capture that many. Years of hype around Dressel culminated at the Tokyo Olympics, and he lived up to every ounce.

2. Kristof Milak, Hungary

Kristof Milak, Olympics, Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kristof Milak (HUN) in the men's 200m butterfly heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Kristof Milak on his way to Olympic gold in the men’s 200 fly — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

Kristof Milak earns the No. 2 spot on this list after winning  two medals at his first Olympics, gold in the 200 butterfly and silver in the 100 butterfly. In the 200 fly, Milak was untouchable, his margin of victory (2.48 seconds) larger than in any other men’s event in Tokyo. He broke Michael Phelps’ Olympic record from Phelps’ eight-gold-medal performance in 2008, and his time was faster than any other man had ever swum. But the world missed out on seeing Milak take a shot at his world record of 1:50.73, and he potentially could have crushed the mark if not for a suit malfunction shortly before the race that Milak said broke his focus. Instead, he saved his amazing effort of the meet for the 100 fly, when he swam faster on the second length than any man ever and nearly ran down Dressel. His final mark of 49.68 made him the second-fastest man in history, ahead of the times Phelps and Milorad Cavic swam in their epic duel at the 2009 World Championships.

3. Adam Peaty, Great Britain

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Adam Peaty (GBR) celebrates after winning the men's 100m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Peaty after winning Olympic gold in the men’s 100 breast in Tokyo — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

In 2021, Adam Peaty got some company. Dutchman Arno Kamminga joined him in the sub-58 range in the 100 breaststroke, and Peaty now sits less than a second ahead of anyone else in history in the event for the first time since 2016. But still, he won his second straight Olympic gold in the 100 breast in Tokyo in 57.37, well off his world record of 56.88 but still well clear of anyone else’s top effort ever. Since making his international debut in 2014, Peaty has literally never lost the 100 breaststroke in any long course race. Sure, you can knock him as a one-event wonder, but he’s one of history’s best swimmers of his margin of dominance in that one event. At this Olympics, he was also the key force behind Great Britain winning a pair of relay medals, gold in the mixed 400 medley relay and silver in the men’s 400 medley relay, splitting well under 57 on both occasions.

4. Evgeny Rylov, Russia

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Evgeny Rylov (ROC) shows off his gold medal during the medals ceremony for the men's 100m backstroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Evgeny Rylov with his gold medal from the men’s 200 backstroke in Tokyo — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Evgeny Rylov has been the world’s top 200 backstroker since earning Olympic bronze in the event in 2016, and now he’s the world’s top backstroke swimmer, period. He took gold in a much-anticipated 100 back, touching out countryman Kliment Kolesnikov with his 51.98. That race included defending gold medalist and world-record holder Ryan Murphy as well as two-time world champion Xu Jiayu, and Rylov got the job done to show his mettle as a big performer in big moments. Later, he won by almost a second in the four-lap race, checking in at 1:53.27, and this finish was not terribly surprising considering the impressive record of quick 200 back performances Rylov has built up in the past four years. His times were one and four hundredths, respectively, off his lifetime bests, but he is among the top five in history in both races.

5. Bobby Finke, USA

bobby finke, 1500 freestyle, tokyo olympics

Bobby Finke after winning Olympic gold in the 1500 freestyle — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

All of the previous four entrants on this list were predicted to mint gold at the Olympics. 21-year-old American Bobby Finke was not. He was an outside medal chance in the 1500 free at best. His first final of the meet was in the 800 free, and he sat in fifth place for most of the race, even through the 700-meter split. At the last turn, he was fourth, 1.52 seconds off the lead and 1.19 seconds out of third. But then Finke blasted an unbelievable 26.39 split to pass everyone and touch out Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri for gold. Three days later, everyone knew what he was capable of in the 1500 free, and somehow, he was even better on the last 50. He flipped third at the 1450-meter wall, seven tenths off the lead, before coming home in 25.78 and winning by more than a second. Finke was certainly the most unexpected star to emerge from the Games as he not only joined the ranks of the world’s top distance swimmers but currently tops that list.

6. Duncan Scott, Great Britain

duncan scott, olympics Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR) and Duncan Scott (GBR) celebrate with their medals during the medals ceremony for the men's 200m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Duncan Scott won four medals at the Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Performances at the Olympics are the biggest factor in determining spots among this top 25, and unsurprisingly, individual gold medalists typically populate the top spots. But Duncan Scott ranks above several swimmers who did win individual gold because he claimed two silver medals in very competitive events and was critical to two relay medals, including one gold. Scott entered Tokyo as the slight favorite in the 200 freestyle and blasted off on the last 50, seemingly putting himself in position for gold before countryman Tom Dean touched him out by four hundredths. A few days later, Scott could not quite catch China’s Wang Shun in the men’s 200 IM another furious charge on the last 50. Scott now ranks seventh-fastest in history in both events. In between, Scott anchored Great Britain’s 800 freestyle relay to gold in 1:43.45, and he secured silver for the men’s medley relay with a 47.08 anchor leg. Scott might not have topped the podium on his own in any event, but he was so close twice and so good on two relays that he deserves this high a placement.

7. Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia

zac stubblety-cook, olympics, Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Izaac Stubblety-Cook (AUS) in the men's 200m breaststroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Zac Stubblety-Cook won gold in the men’s 200 breast in Toyko — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

The men’s 200 breaststroke looked like it would be one of the fastest races in Tokyo, with a 2:06 possibly required just to earn a medal. Both Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook and Japan’s Shoma Sato had almost broken the world record earlier in the year, becoming the second and third-fastest performers in history, and they would face off with two-time world champion and world-record holder Anton Chupkov. But as it turned out, Sato missed the final and Chupkov ended up fourth. Stubblety-Cook, however, swam to his potential and pulled away from the field on the last 50 to comfortably claim Olympic gold, his final mark of 2:06.38 good for an Olympic record and just off his lifetime best. And while Stubblety-Cook is a 200 breaststroker first and foremost, he was able to supply some 58 splits on Australia’s medley relays, helping his team earn a bronze in the mixed-gender event.

8. Tom Dean, Great Britain

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Tom Dean (GBR) reacts after the men's 4x200m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Dean after winning gold in the men’s 200 free — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Tom Dean, a 21-year-old competing in his first Olympics after debuting on the global stage at the 2019 World Championships, was the gold medalist in the 200 freestyle, where he swam a 1:44.22 to become the sixth-fastest performer in history. Dean was on the radar as a contender in that much-improved and wide-open event, and he swam an excellent race, keeping close enough to early leaders Hwang Sun-Woo and Fernando Scheffer before accelerating off the last turn and barely holding off his teammate Scott to win gold. The next day, Dean led off Britain’s 800 free relay, and while his leadoff split of 1:45.72 was only third-best in the field and well off his gold-medal winning time from the individual event, it was solid enough to let his teammates go to work and pull away for a comfortable gold.

9. Florian Wellbrock, Germany

florian wellbrock, olympics, Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) wears his gold medal after the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Florian Wellbrock won the bronze medal in the 1500 free in the pool and then gold in the 10K open water event — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

If the two pool distance races in Tokyo were 750 meters and 1450 meters in length, Florian Wellbrock would have won both of them. Instead, he flipped first in both finals but could not change gears and keep pace with his rivals. He ended up fourth in the 800 free behind Bobby Finke, Gregorio Paltrinieri and Mykhailo Romanchuk before earning his first Olympic medal, a bronze behind Finke and Romanchuk, in the 1500 free. Still, he was well off his lifetime best in the mile (he remains the top-ranked swimmer in the world at 14:36.45), and surely he was disappointed to surrender a large lead at the very end. But Wellbrock was not done as he would later compete in the 10K open water event in Tokyo, and he did not give anyone a chance to catch him in that one. Wellbrock swam away from the pack on the last of seven laps of the course to win gold by 25 seconds. Most impressive about Wellbrock was the resilience he showed after two devastating finishes in the pool to still be on his game for open water.

10. Wang Shun, China

27-year-old Wang Shun has been prominent on the scene for years as he took bronze in the 200 IM at the 2016 Olympics as well as the 2015 and 2017 World Championships. But at the most recent Worlds in 2019, he faded to sixth in the event, and he was not considered more than an outside medal shot for Tokyo. He had never broken 1:56 in the 200 IM. But he was the class of the event at the Olympics, qualifying first for the final and then claiming Olympic gold. He had the lead at the halfway point but was a second off the pace after the breaststroke leg as Michael Andrew recorded a sterling split there. But Wang quickly caught Andrew on the free and then held off a challenge from Duncan Scott to secure gold in 1:55.00, a lifetime best by more than a second. And Wang now has been faster than any man ever in this event aside from the legendary duo of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

11. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Ahmed Hafnaoui after winning 400 free Olympic gold — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Networ

Six spots up on this list was Bobby Finke, who pulled off two of Tokyo’s biggest surprises by winning gold in the 800 free and 1500 free. But Finke was at least an outside medal contender. Ahmed Hafnaoui was not! This 18-year-old from Tunisia had never swum at a long course World Championships. His lifetime best in the 400 freestyle prior to the meet had been 3:46.16, which had him seeded 16th. He dropped down to 3:45.82 in prelims as he snuck into the final as the No. 8 seed. He swam in second place most of the race behind Australia’s Jack McLoughlin, but on the last length, the relatively unknown teenager had another gear left. He won Olympic gold in 3:43.36, becoming just the second Tunisian man to win Olympic gold in swimming following Ous Mellouli and the first man from Africa to win gold in swimming since 2012.

12. Chase Kalisz, USA

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Chase Kalisz (USA) in the men's 200m individual medley semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Kalisz competing at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

At the 2016 Olympics, Chase Kalisz tracked down Kosuke Hagino in the 400 IM final, only to finish seven tenths behind him with the silver. At the last World Championships, Kalisz struggled mightily, entering as favorite in both individual medley events but leaving with just a bronze in the 200 IM and ninth-place finish in the 400 IM. He later revealed he had been battling a shoulder injury, but his status was a big question mark as recently as the beginning of June. It turns out that those setbacks in 2016 and 2019 were the fuel Kalisz needed to propel his career, and he delivered this year in his signature 400 IM. Sure, he benefitted from reigning world champion Daiya Seto finishing ninth, but Kalisz took charge of the final with a killer breaststroke leg that gave him a 2.5-second lead going into freestyle. He faded at the end, but he had enough to hang on and capture gold. He was also a medal contender in the 200 IM going into the meet, but he shockingly missed the final, finishing 10th.

13. Arno Kamminga, Netherlands

arno kamminga, olympics, Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Arno Kamminga (NED) during the men's 100m breaststroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

Arno Kamminga at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Arno Kamminga was another swimmer who made massive strides in 2021 and really going back to late 2020. He is 25, but he was making his Olympic debut in Tokyo and he had never swum in a World Championships final, topping out at 10th place in four World Championships semifinals appearances in 2017 and 2009. But prior to the Olympics, he became just the second man ever to break 58 in the 100 breaststroke (joining Adam Peaty) and the sixth man under 2:07 in the 200 breaststroke. He would go on to earn silver medals in both events in Tokyo, coming through in key moments where others faltered, particularly in the 200 breast. We’ll see if Kamminga is capable another leap forward to get to that gold-medal level, but his two silver medals made him the first man to win medals in both breaststroke events at one Olympics since 2008.

14. Ryan Murphy, USA

ryan murphy, olympics, Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ryan Murphy (USA) and Mitch Larkin (AUS) react after the men's 100m backstroke semifinals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Murphy at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

The world’s premier backstroker in 2016, Ryan Murphy could not quite keep pace with Russian rivals Evgeny Rylov and, in the 100 back, Kliment Kolesnikov, but he still earned individual silver and bronze medals with solid efforts. Most impressive about Murphy, now 26, has been his consistency to be one of the world’s best and often the very best each year since 2016. And perhaps most significantly for Murphy, he led off the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay in 52.31, the top split in the field, as he led the squad to a gold medal and world record. When Great Britain beat the U.S. in that relay at the 2019 World Championships, Murphy’s slower leadoff leg had put the Americans in a hole, but this time, he spearheaded the first men’s long course relay world record since the supersuit era of 2009.

15. Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kliment Kolesnikov (ROC) in the men's 100m backstroke heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Kliment Kolesnikov — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Only two men have broken long course world records this year, Caeleb Dressel and Kliment Kolesnikov. Kolesnikov’s accomplishment came in the non-Olympic 50 backstroke, but he performed exceptionally well in two events in Tokyo. He has been one of the best 100 backstrokers in the world this year, too, and he swam a 52.00 to earn silver behind countryman Evgeny Rylov. He entered the Olympics with the second-fastest time in the world in the 100 free and ended up with a bronze medal behind the dynamic duo of Dressel and Kyle Chalmers. The only knock on Kolesnikov is that he could not elevate his performances on relays. Russia was a gold-medal favorite in the 400 free relay but ended up seventh, with Kolesnikov anchoring in a very disappointing 48.45 on the second swim of a double (although the Russian Olympic Committee team was likely out of medal contention by that point). He was much better in the 400 medley relay, with a 47.03 anchor split, but he could not quite catch Italy for bronze.

16. Kyle Chalmers, Australia

kyle chalmers, Olympics, Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kyle Chalmers (AUS) after the men's 100m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Chalmers at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Four years previously, Kyle Chalmers had been a little-known 18-year-old when he stormed from behind to win Olympic gold in the men’s 100 free. This time, Chalmers was a 23-year-old veteran ready to match up with Dressel after Dressel edged him for the 2019 world title in the 100 free by just 0.12. This time, Chalmers was again dynamite in the 100 free, and his back-half split of 24.37 was much faster than anyone else in the field. And once again, he almost caught Dressel. He swam a 47.08, matching his 2019 Worlds mark, and the margin this time was just six hundredths, a silver medal with no shame. Chalmers also bagged a pair of relay bronze medals in Tokyo as his 46.44 anchor split on the 400 free relay vaulted the Aussies from sixth to third, and he swam the second leg on the 800 free relay squad.

17. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) shows off his bronze medal after the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Gregorio Paltrinieri with his 10K bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

Gregorio Paltrinieri entered 2021 as the gold-medal favorite in both the 800 free and 1500 free. The 26-year-old was reigning world champion in the 800 free and defending gold medalist in the 1500 free, and he swam one of the top performances of the pandemic year 2020 with his European record 14:33.10 in the mile, the second-fastest time in history. But Paltrinieri was diagnosed with mononucleosis just a month before the Games, so he competed in Tokyo at less than 100%. But he still was able to win a pair of medals. After barely qualifying for the 800 free final in eighth place, he held the lead for most of the event before claiming the silver medal in a furious finish. He was a disappointing fourth in the 1500 free, but he later picked up a bronze medal in the 10K, his first-ever medal in the 10K at an Olympics or Worlds.

18. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine

Celebrating Gold Medal ROMANCHUK Mykhaylo UKR 800m Freestyle Men Final Swimming Budapest - Hungary 22/5/2021 Duna Arena XXXV LEN European Aquatic Championships Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Mykhailo Romanchuk won two European Championships gold medals in 2021 — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Another European distance star, Mykhailo Romanchuk has often flown under the radar behind the likes of Paltrinieri and Florian Wellbrock. After placing 15th in the 1500 free at his first Olympics in 2016, he finished second in the event at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships, once each to Paltrinieri and Wellbrock. At the Olympics, the 25-year-old was in the hunt for Olympic gold medals in both the 800 and 1500 free. He earned bronze in a tight 800 free final behind Bobby Finke and Paltrinieri, and then he claimed another silver in the 1500 free. He and Finke both trailed Wellbrock by seven tenths at the last turn, and while Finke stole headlines for his 25.78 anchor split, Romanchuk was really impressive himself at 26.78 to sneak past Wellbrock. Romanchuk did not swim his best in either Olympic final, but he still ranks first in the world in the 800 free and second in the 1500.

19. Jack McLoughlin, Australia

jack mcloughlin, olympics, Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Jack McLoughlin (AUS) puts on his silver medal during the medals ceremony for the men's 400m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Jack McLoughlin won silver in the men’s 400 freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Jack McLoughlin, a 26-year-old Australian competing in his second Olympics, entered Tokyo as the world’s second-fastest man in both the 400 free and 800 free, and while he did not match that level of performance in Tokyo, he still walked away with his first Olympic medal. He led the 400 free final for most of the race, only to just miss out on gold when Ahmed Hafnaoui rocketed home, but there was no shame in this silver medal. McLoughlin joined an impressive legacy of 400 freestyle Olympic medalists for Australia that includes 2016 gold medalist Mack Horton, 2000 and 2004 gold medalist Ian Thorpe and 2004 bronze medalist Grant Hackett in just this century alone. Later, McLoughlin ended up fifth in the 800 free, about three seconds outside of the medal mix as four swimmers distanced themselves from the pack.

20. Tomoru Honda, Japan

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Kristof Milak (HUN) and Tomaru Honda (JPN) celebrate after placing first and second in the men's 200m butterfly final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Tomoru Honda (right) celebrates with Kristof Milak after the men’s 200 fly final — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

At his last major meet in 2019, Tomoru Honda earned a silver medal in the 200 butterfly. That was the World Junior Championships. Honda did not even qualify for the senior World Championships that year. But in 2021, he won Japan’s only medal in men’s swimming at the Olympics as he placed second behind Kristof Milak in the 200 fly. Despite Milak winning the race by almost 2.5 seconds, Honda was very impressive in placing second. His 1:53.73 moved him to 11th all-time in the race. Definitely not bad for a swimmer who had never broken 1:55 prior to 2021.

21. Florent Manaudou, France

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Florent Manaudou during the 2020 ISL season — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Two years ago, there would have been good money bet against Florent Manaudou appearing on a global top-25 list. Manaudou, the 50 freestyle gold medalist at the 2012 Olympics and the silver medalist (by 0.01) four years later, retired after the 2016 Olympics but returned to the sport in 2019 to swim for Energy Standard in the International Swimming League. His full skills in the short course 50-meter events will be on full display in the ISL, but Manaudou put together an incredible effort in Tokyo to snare a silver medal in the 50 free, his third Olympic medal in the 50 free in three appearances. He was well off his best (21.19, which ranks tied for fifth all time), and his 21.55 is only fifth in the world this year, but the 30-year-old showed his big-meet racing ability once again.

22. Jay Litherland, USA

Jul 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Jay Litherland (USA) during the men's 400m individual medley heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network

Jay Litherland claimed Olympic silver in the men’s 400 IM — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports

The first Olympic final of the week, the men’s 400 IM, featured seven of the eight swimmers (all except gold medalist Chase Kalisz) recording slower times than they had in the previous evening’s prelims. But it was about the race, and for Jay Litherland, that meant having to overcome a 1.6-second deficit on the last 100 meters to claim silver. Litherland is known for his incredible finishes, and he has used stellar freestyle splits to overcome big deficits at both the 2016 and 2021 Olympic Trials. At the 2019 World Championships, he almost ran down world champion Daiya Seto with his phenomenal last two laps. This time, the 25-year-old Litherland passed five men to take silver and secure a 1-2 finish for the United States. Also in this space, let’s take notice of Brendon Smith, who was actually a few tenths faster on freestyle than Litherland as he came from eighth place at the 300-meter mark to earn bronze.

23. Elijah Winnington, Australia

ELIJAH WINNINGTON 1

Elijah Winnington recorded the world’s fastest 400 freestyle at Australia’s Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

At Australia’s Olympic Trials in June, 21-year-old Elijah Winnington won the 400 freestyle in 3:42.65. That phenomenal effort made him the ninth-fastest swimmer in history in the event and the fourth-fastest Australian behind the trio of Ian Thorpe, Mack Horton and Grant Hackett, all gold medalists in their own right. Winnington also placed second in the 200 free at that meet. No, Winnington was not at his best in Tokyo. As the favorite in the 400 free final, he led through the first 150 meters and then faded back, all the way to seventh. He missed the 200 free semifinals and was dropped from Australia’s 800 free relay in finals, although he did earn his first Olympic medal (a bronze) for his prelims swim. But the Olympics were not the only meet this year, and Winnington remains the No. 1 swimmer in the world in that race.

24. Carson Foster, USA

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Carson Foster at the U.S. Olympic Trials — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Carson Foster is not an Olympic medalist. Foster is not even an Olympian at this point in his career. He was actually the swimmer Litherland passed with his incredible freestyle split in the 400 IM final at the Olympic Trials. Foster had been in first place through 250 meters and second place after breaststroke before he faded badly coming home. Foster then placed eighth in the 200 free, missing an Olympic relay spot by two tenths. But several weeks later, right as the Olympics were getting underway, Foster swam a 4:08.46 at the Austin Sectionals meet. It is an apples-to-oranges comparison since Foster did not have to exert himself in prelims or deal with the pressures of an Olympics, but that’s the fastest time in the world by more than a half-second and much faster than the time that Kalisz swam to win Olympic gold in the event. Foster ranks ninth all-time in the event. Let’s see if Foster, 19, can continue that momentum moving into the next Olympic cycle.

25. (Tie) James Guy, Great Britain & Zach Apple, USA

Jul 26, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Zach Apple (USA) celebrates after anchoring the team to a gold medal in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Apple after anchoring the U.S. men’s 400 freestyle relay to Olympic gold — Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Jul 31, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; James Guy (GBR) and Adam Peaty (GBR) celebrate victory in the mixed 4x100m medley relay final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

James Guy after helping Great Britain’s mixed 400 medley relay claim Olympic gold — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

There are not supposed to be ties on this list, but Zach Apple and James Guy each deserve recognition for their very real contributions to two gold-medal-winning relays each. Neither man swam in an individual final in Tokyo. Apple placed 11th in a fast 100 freestyle, and Guy scratched his only event, the 100 butterfly, although he likely could have won a medal. But Apple provided the anchor leg of the American men’s 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays. In the 400 free relay, Apple took a tiny advantage and extended it to a lead over challenging Italy, and in the medley, he rebounded from his disappointing individual swim and a rough split in the 800 free relay to hold the field at bay and secure a relay world record. Guy, meanwhile, secured his first Olympic gold medal as he supplied a strong 1:44.40 split on the 800 free relay to give Great Britain a lead it would not relinquish, and he was also the man who took the lead on the mixed 400 medley relay with his 50.00 fly split. Guy also posted a 50.27 100 fly relay leg the next day to help lead the British men to second behind that aforementioned American world record.

ALSO IN CONSIDERATION (alphabetical order):

  • Michael Andrew, USA
  • Francisco Burdisso, Italy
  • Thomas Ceccon, Italy
  • Evgeny Chupkov, Russia
  • Jeremy Desplanches, Switzerland
  • Bruno Fratus, Brazil
  • Luke Greenbank, Great Britain
  • Hwang Sun-Woo, South Korea
  • Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy
  • Alessandro Miressi, Italy
  • Matti Mattsson, Finland
  • Noe Ponti, Switzerland
  • David Popovici, Romania
  • Fernando Scheffer, Brazil
  • Daiya Seto, Japan
  • Brendon Smith, Australia
  • Kieran Smith, USA
  • Xu Jiayu, China

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Daeleb Cressel

    Kyle Chalmers and KK are underrated!!
    Tom Dean overrated

  2. avatar
    James LaFave

    Michael Andrew is currently the most versatile swimmer in the world besides Dressel. He could have finaled in the 50fr,100FL,100BR and 200IM. You guys did him dirty 😔

  3. avatar
    I hate the 2fly

    Kyle should be top 10

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