Pre-World Championships Rankings: The 25 Best Male Swimmers in the World Right Now

Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Pre-World Championships Rankings: The 25 Best Male Swimmers in the World Right Now

Since Michael Phelps walked away from swimming for good after the 2016 Olympics, one individual has held the title of “world’s best male swimmer” for almost six years. Regular readers of this website will have no trouble determining that swimmer’s identity. But stacking up the swimmers behind him presented some challenges in determining what accomplishments and performances matter the most.

This set of rankings will judge the 25 best swimmers in the world, with long course abilities weighed most heavily. We are trying to determine what swimmers are the best right now, a week out from the start of the Budapest Worlds, but given that many top swimmers have yet to compete at peak form this year, results from the Tokyo Olympics and other major meets will be weighed heavily as well. And even though many big names are skipping Worlds, they were still considered here because of their recent success and the likelihood that they will once again impact major international competition in the future, some even this year.

Once Worlds and this year’s other major meets (Commonwealth Games are European Championships) are concluded, this list will surely look a lot different, but that is a conversation for August. Be sure to check out the women’s top-25 list, and here’s who we have for the top men:

1. Caeleb Dressel, USA

Caeleb Dressel (photo: Mike Lewis)

Caeleb Dressel — Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Once again, Caeleb Dressel for No. 1 was an easy choice. Last year, he won five Olympic gold medals, and his wins in the 100 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 50 freestyle made him the third man in history to win more than two individual golds at one Olympics (joining Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz). The U.S. International Team Trials in April served as Dressel’s first major checkpoint meet since Tokyo, and he won all four of his events (50 fly in addition to his gold medal events), and he is the favorite to defend his world titles in all four. He is comfortably ranked first in the world in all of those events except the 50 fly, where he is nine hundredths behind Nicholas Santos. His top competition in the 100 free will be absent from Budapest, and he won Olympic gold in the 50 free by more than double the previous largest margin of victory, but a serious challenge will await him in the 100 fly (more on that below). Additionally, Dressel is a big reason why the U.S. men’s 400 free and 400 medley relays will be favored to win world titles, and he will also provide key legs on both mixed relays, which should finish on the podium.

2. Kristof Milak, Hungary

Kristof Milak-mare-nostrom-series

Kristof Milak — Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

The second spot here goes to the man most capable of challenging Dressel in one of his signature events this year. 22-year-old Kristof Milak is the world’s top 200 butterflyer, having broken Michael Phelps’ world record in the event at the 2019 World Championships before cruising to Olympic gold last year, and he is elite in the 100 fly as well. In Tokyo, Dressel needed every bit of his world-record performance to hold off Milak for gold, and Milak became the second-fastest swimmer in history at 49.68. Milak has not posted any crazy times yet this year, as he is ranked fifth in the world in the 100 fly (51.03) and second in the 200 fly (1:53.88), but he is expected to be lights-out as he swims in front of a home crowd at Worlds in Budapest.

3. Adam Peaty, Great Britain

adam peaty, 2021 european championships, tokyo olympics

Adam Peaty — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

In each of his two Olympic appearances, Adam Peaty has participated in just one individual event, but his dominance over that event has allowed him to remain in the conversation for best in the world. His world record is almost a second faster than any other swimmer in history, and he owns the fastest 17 performances in history (and 18 of the top 19). He has won three consecutive world titles in the 100 breast and the 50 breast, and he comfortably won Olympic gold last year despite finishing off his best time. His ability to swim ridiculous 56-mid splits on relays is the main reason that Great Britain won gold in the mixed 400 medley relay and silver in the men’s medley relay. Peaty will miss his chance to defend his world titles in Budapest because of a foot injury, but he should return in time for the Commonwealth Games and European Championships later in the summer, and he has stated his goal of “Project Immortal,” to lower his 100 breast world record to a time that can never be beaten.

4. Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia


Zac Stubblety-Cook — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Australian breaststroker Zac Stubblety-Cook skyrockets up these rankings because he is the only male swimmer to set a world record so far in 2022. At the Australian Championships last month, Stubblety-Cook won the 200 breaststroke in 2:05.95, taking down the world record of 2:06.12 set by Anton Chupkov in 2019 and becoming the first man ever under 2:06. That came just 10 months after Stubblety-Cook arrived at his first Olympics as a medal favorite in a tight pack of 200 breaststrokers, but he was the only one of the favorites to deliver his best in Tokyo. He crushed the field on the last 50 and pulled away from Arno Kamminga to win gold. He is a one-event specialist, but a world record and Olympic gold within one year is worthy of recognition.

5. Bobby Finke, USA


Bobby Finke — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Bobby Finke, the breakout star of the Olympics, checks in at No. 5 in recognition of his skill in the distance events. In Tokyo, he unleashed epic finishing speed to overtake his more decorated competitors and win gold in both the 800 freestyle and 1500 freestyle. In the 800, he was a second-and-a-half out of first place with just 50 meters to go, and his finish was one of the biggest upsets of the Olympics. Since then, Finke has seen little competition in his main events as he completed his NCAA career at the University of Florida and then easily qualified for the World Championships. His top times this year rank him third in the world in both events, but as last year’s gold medalist and a swimmer accustomed to swimming his best against the toughest competition, it would be foolish to count out Finke as a serious threat for world titles.

6. Evgeny Rylov, Russia

RYLOV Evgeny ENS Energy Standard (ENS) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 9 day 2 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Evgeny Rylov — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Evgeny Rylov has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year. In March, he appeared on stage with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a rally promoting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a result, he lost his sponsorship agreement with Speedo and received a nine-month suspension from FINA, although Russian swimmers were already banned from the World Championships because of the invasion. But from a pure swimming perspective, Rylov is still the world’s best backstroker by virtue of his wins in the 100 and 200-meter races at the Tokyo Olympics. His times in Tokyo were elite, 51.98 in the 100 and 1:53.27 in the 200, and he backed up those performances by again winning both events over primary rival Ryan Murphy at the ISL Final at the end of the year. But because of his own actions and those of his country, we will not see Rylov competing internationally in 2022.

7. Duncan Scott, Great Britain

SCOTT Duncan LON London Roar (LON) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Duncan Scott — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Duncan Scott has never earned an individual gold medal at either the Olympics or World Championships, but the 25-year-old from Glasgow, Scotland, is on the verge. In Tokyo, he was the silver medalist in the 200 freestyle in 1:44.26, just four hundredths behind British teammate Tom Dean, and then he picked up another silver in the 200 IM (1:55.26). In between, he split 1:43.45 on the anchor leg of Great Britain’s 800 freestyle relay to pull away for a gold medal. This year, Scott will be among the favorites in three individual events at Worlds, with the 400 IM a new addition to his lineup. He currently ranks second in the world in the longer medley (4:09.18), and he sits first in the 200 IM (1:56.08) and fourth in the 200 free (1:45.44). Rather than his abilities in any one event, it’s his consistent excellence that moves him up this list. Scott was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, but if he can recover in time for Budapest, could end up with a big medal haul.

8. Arno Kamminga, Netherlands

short course world championships KAMMINGA Arno NED 100m Breaststroke Men Heats Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 16/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Adam Peaty — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

With Adam Peaty set to miss Worlds, the favorite to succeed him as 100 breaststroke world champion is Dutchman Arno Kamminga, the silver medalist in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. Kamminga is the only man aside from Peaty to ever swim under 58, and while Peaty owns 21 of the 25 fastest efforts in history, Kamminga holds the other four. In addition to his 100-meter success, Kamminga was the leader in the 200 breast final in Tokyo for the first 150 meters, and he ended up with another silver medal behind Zac Stubblety-Cook. Unfortunately for Kamminga, there is no 150-meter breaststroke. His world rankings so far this year are third in the 100 breast and fifth in the 200 breast.

9. Kyle Chalmers, Australia

CHALMERS Kyle LON London Roar (LON) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kyle Chalmers — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kyle Chalmers will be at the World Championships, but he will not be competing in the events for which he is best known. When he was 18, Chalmers upset a veteran-heavy field for Olympic gold in the 100 freestyle, and five years later, he earned the silver medal in Tokyo, just six hundredths behind gold medalist Caeleb Dressel. He followed that up with a brilliant fall short course campaign that included taking down an 11-year-old world record in the short course meters 100 freestyle. Chalmers missed the Short Course World Championships with a shoulder injury, and he planned to skip the long course Worlds in Budapest, but he later reversed course and decided to swim only the 100 butterfly. Of course, Chalmers could still make a sprint free appearance on Australia’s relays. The mixed 400 freestyle relay would become an instant gold-medal favorite if he competes. Chalmers will then show off his individual 100 free capabilities later in the summer at the Commonwealth Games, where he could record a time that rivals or surpasses Dressel’s 2022 best in the 100 free.

10. Ryan Murphy, USA


Ryan Murphy — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ryan Murphy was the gold medalist in the 100 and 200 backstroke at the 2016 Olympics, and he holds the world record in the 100-meter event, but he has never won an individual world title. But the 26-year-old will be heavily favored for gold in the 200 back this year with Olympic gold medalist and reigning world champion Evgeny Rylov absent. Even though Murphy has not won a major title in several years, he has been a steady presence in the backstroke events while growing into a strong leadership role on the U.S. team. He is currently the top-ranked 200 backstroker in the world at 1:55.01, although he will surely need a quicker swim to fend off Great Britain’s Luke Greenbank in Budapest, and he ranks second behind countryman Hunter Armstrong in the 100 back.

11. Daiya Seto, Japan

SETO Daiya JPN 400m Individual Medley Men Heats Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 20/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Daiya Seto — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Before the Tokyo Olympics, Daiya Seto looked like the world’s best IMer, but in a shocking performance, he did not qualify for the 400 IM final, and he took fourth in the 200 IM. However, Seto quickly rebounded during the ISL season, and he won both medley events at the Short Course World Championships in December, his 400 IM gold marking a fifth consecutive title in the event. Now, Seto will look for rebound performances in long course amid deep and competitive fields in Budapest. He does enter the meet as the fastest 400 IMer in the world (4:09.07), and he is ranked fifth in the 200 IM (1:57.09). The 28-year-old swept the IM events at the 2019 World Championships, and he previously won 400 IM gold in 2013 and 2015.

12. Wang Shun, China


Wang Shun (white cap) — Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Wang Shun is another one-event specialist, but his skills in the 200 IM paid off last year in Olympic gold. He posted the fastest backstroke and freestyle splits in the Olympic final, and he overtook Michael Andrew on the last length while fighting off freestyle specialist Duncan Scott for gold. Wang posted a time of 1:55.00, making him the third-fastest performer in history behind Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. No one has approached Wang’s best form so far in 2022, so he will enter the World Championships as a gold-medal favorite once again.

13. Florian Wellbrock, Germany

Florian Wellbrock

Florian Wellbrock — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

At the Olympics, Florian Wellbrock led both the 800 and 1500 freestyle finals with 50 meters to go, but he left with just one bronze medal and a fourth-place finish. So far in 2022, he has been the second-best distance swimmer from Germany. But he has a strong track record that cannot be forgotten. Wellbrock was the world champion in the 1500 freestyle in 2019, and he won Olympic gold in the 10-kilometer open water swim in Tokyo. In December, he crushed the field in the 1500 free at the Short Course World Championships and took more than a second off the world record. The 2022 world rankings have Wellbrock sitting second behind countryman Lukas Martens in the 800 free and fourth in the 1500 free, so he will definitely factor into both world-title races.

14. Tom Dean, Great Britain

Tom Dean

Tom Dean — Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr/British Swimming

An Olympic gold medal in the 200 freestyle at the Olympics puts 22-year-old Tom Dean in this slot. A brilliant final 50 meters in Tokyo helped Dean pass the field and then hang on against charging countryman Duncan Scott to stand on top of the podium. A day later, Dean was not at his best while leading off Great Britain’s 800 free relay, but he still led his team to gold. Dean will again factor heavily into the 200 free conversation at Worlds, and he will lead Britain’s hopes of gold and perhaps a world record in the 800 free relay, but in addition to holding the sixth-fastest time in the world in the 200 free for 2022, Dean also ranks seventh in both the 100 free and 200 IM, so maybe he could diversify his program in Budapest.

15. Chase Kalisz, USA


Chase Kalisz — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Chase Kalisz won the first gold medal awarded in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics when he opened up a big lead on the breaststroke leg of the 400 IM and then held on. However, Kalisz did not perform well in the 200 IM in Tokyo and missed the final. This year, Kalisz will again race both medley events in Budapest, the same pool where he earned the only two world titles of his career in 2017. He holds the world’s second-fastest 200 IM this year (1:56.21) and fifth-fastest time in the 400 IM (4:10.50). Kalisz does not have the look of a certain medalist in the 400 IM like last year, but he is capable of reaching the podium in either event, and since he has been winning international medals since 2013, his track record is well established.

16. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

Paltrinieri Gregorio ITA celebrating Gold Medal 800m Freestyle Men Final Kazan - Russia 07/11/2021 Aquatics Palace LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Gregorio Paltrinieri — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Gregorio Paltrinieri was on track for a promising Olympics in Tokyo where he hoped to defend his gold medal in the 1500 freestyle and add a title in the 800 free, but he was diagnosed with mononucleosis one month before the Games. He ended up with a silver in the 800 free and a bronze in the 10-kilometer open water swim, but he was off the podium in the 1500 free. The 27-year-old should again be in the mix in both of the longer freestyle races in Budapest, and he enters ranked second in the world in 2021 in the 1500 and sixth in the 800 free. Paltrinieri’s accomplishments over the past seven years, stretching back to his first world title in 2015, elevate his profile, but it is plausible that he returns to contending for gold medals this year.

17. Lukas Martens, Germany


Lukas Martens — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Up next is one of 2022’s breakout performers, 20-year-old German Lukas Martens. He was 12th in Tokyo in the 400 freestyle and 11th in the 1500 free, but he is currently the top-ranked swimmer in the world in the 400, 800 and 1500-meter events, and he also ranks third globally in the 200 free. His 400 free time of 3:41.60 is more than a second-and-a-half quicker than the 3:43.36 that won Olympic gold last year, and his 800 free mark of 7:41.43 would also have been good enough for gold. His 1500-meter time of 14:40.28 is quicker than any Olympic final time except Bobby Finke’s. Off just a few impressive efforts, he ranks in the top-10 in history in the 400 and 800 free and just outside the top-10 in the 1500. Martens is the clear favorite to win a world title in the 400 free and a definite contender for the top spot in the two longer races, and if he can deliver on these promising early-season times, he will move much higher on this list.

18. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia


Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Ahmed Hafnaoui was not on the radar as a potential Olympic medalist last year, and he was the eighth qualifier for the final, not to mention the youngest swimmer in the field. But in one of the most dramatic moments of the Games, Hafnaoui pulled off the upset, and he became just the second Tunisian swimmer to win Olympic gold after Ous Mellouli. Hafnaoui has only competed at one major meet since, the Short Course World Championships in December, and while he struggled in the 400 free and did not make the final, he did win an impressive silver medal in the 1500 free. He could contend in any of the 400, 800 and 1500-meter events in Budapest, but he is entering as the Olympic gold medalist, so his anonymity from the beginning of the Tokyo Games is long gone.

19. Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia

Kolesnikov Kliment RUS Gold Medal 50m Backstroke Men Final Kazan - Russia 03/11/2021 Aquatics Palace LEN European Short Course Swimming Championships Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kliment Kolesnikov — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kliment Kolesnikov will be absent from the World Championships and the European Championships six weeks later because of the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but he boosted his profile significantly in 2021 as he won the Olympic silver medal in the 100 backstroke and took bronze in the 100 freestyle. He also was the first man to ever break 24 seconds in the 50 back at last year’s European Championships, although he recently lost that world record to American Hunter Armstrong. It feels like Kolesnikov has been around for a long time, but he’s only 21 years old, so it’s likely that he will continue impacting sprint free and back races for years to come once Russian athletes are allowed to return to international waters.

20. Hunter Armstrong, USA


Hunter Armstrong — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2021, Hunter Armstrong came out of nowhere to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team as the second representative in the 100 backstroke, and while he did not advance to the final in Tokyo, he did win a gold medal as a prelims relay swimmer. This year, Armstrong has continued his rise, and at the U.S. International Team Trials, he broke the world record in the 50 backstroke with a time of 23.71. A day later, Armstrong added another win in the 100 back, moving to 10th all-time in the race with a mark of 52.20 that edged out world-record holder Ryan Murphy. Armstrong also qualified for Worlds as a relay alternate for the 400 freestyle relay, and he will be positioned for a breakout performance in Budapest if he can replicate or surpass his efforts from late April.

21. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine


Mykhailo Romanchuk — Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Mykhailo Romanchuk is perhaps the most overlooked swimmer in the world. He has played second-fiddle on numerous occasions in the 1500 freestyle as he won silver medals at the 2017 World Championships (behind Gregorio Paltrinieri), 2019 World Championships (behind Florian Wellbrock) and 2021 Olympics (behind Bobby Finke). Romanchuk did earn a gold medal in the 1500 free at the 2018 Short Course World Championships, and he was also the bronze medalist in the 800 free in Tokyo, but the 25-year-old is still looking for his breakthrough moment on the world stage. He has not posted any outstanding swims yet in 2022 (he tops out at eighth in the world in the 1500 free), but he will likely be in the mix in Budapest. As the highest-profile Ukrainian swimmer competing right now, Romanchuk should get some extra attention as a result of the ongoing geopolitical conflict.

22. Tomoru Honda, Japan


Tomoru Honda — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

When a swimmer is the clear choice as the second-best in an event, they deserve a spot on the list, and that is Tomoru Honda in the men’s 200 butterfly. Honda was the silver medalist behind Kristof Milak at the Tokyo Olympics and one of just two swimmers in the race (along with Milak) to break 1:54. The 20-year-old currently ranks first in the world at 1:53.87, so it’s fair to expect him to be standing on the podium at the conclusion of the 200 fly in Budapest. Honda is also a solid 400 IMer with a best time in the 4:10-range, so he is a potential finalist there as well.

23. Carson Foster, USA


Carson Foster — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Carson Foster will swim at his first long course World Championships this year after narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic team in 2021. Foster did end the year with the world’s fastest time in the 400 IM, and now he will have a chance to show his skills against the best medley swimmers in the world. The 20-year-old from Cincinnati had some trouble swimming his best times in major finals, but he seemed to overcome that issue at the U.S. International Team Trials as he pulled away from Olympic champion Chase Kalisz to win the 400 IM in 4:09.33, the third-fastest time in the world. Foster is a serious gold-medal contender in the 400 IM, and he will also be in the mix in the 200 IM in Budapest before he handles a leg of the U.S. men’s 800 freestyle relay that is seeking a return to the Olympic podium.

24. Leon Marchand, France


Leon Marchand — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Here is another 20-year-old individual medley specialist expected to be in the running for medals in Budapest. Leon Marchand was a finalist in the 400 IM in Tokyo, but he made massive strides during his first season at Arizona State University as he trained under Bob Bowman, the mentor of Michael Phelps. At the NCAA Championships, Marchand crushed a Caeleb Dressel record to win the 200-yard IM, and then he added another title in the 200 breaststroke while taking second in the 400 IM. He has yet to swim a long course championship meet, but he ranks in the top five globally in both medley events. Marchand is not a physically imposing competitor, but he has brilliant underwaters and can blast ahead of his competition on breaststroke, so look for him to be in the mix for medals in both events and possibly contend for world titles.

25. Michael Andrew, USA


Michael Andrew — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Will this be the meet that Michael Andrew earns his first individual medal at a major championships? Andrew, 23, became the first swimmer to qualify for the final in all four 50-meter events at the 2019 World Championships, and then he finished fourth in two events (100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle) in Tokyo and fifth in another (200 IM) before helping the U.S. win gold in the 400 medley relay. Andrew enters the Budapest meet with numerous medal chances: he ranks second in the world in the 50 free, 50 breast and 100 breast, and he’s third in the 50 fly and fourth in the 100 fly. He should factor into the U.S. medley relays (men’s and mixed). Andrew has struggled to record his best swims in international finals, but if he can perform, he will add multiple individual honors at this meet.

ALSO IN CONSIDERATION (alphabetical order):

  • Bruno Fratus, Brazil
  • Nic Fink, USA
  • James Guy, Great Britain
  • Hwang Sunwoo, South Korea
  • Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy
  • David Popovici, Romania
  • Matt Sates, South Africa
  • Ilya Shymanovich, Belarus
  • Kieran Smith, USA
  • Elijah Winnington, Australia
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1 year ago

#1 Michael Andrew qualified in 5 individual events…for the US…and is #25? That’s crazy!
#2 Stubblety-Cook is #4 because he’s the “Only male to break a world record in 2022”, but Armstrong is #20 because he was the “First” male to break a world record in 2022…and beat the #10 swimmer head-to-head? Again, crazy!

Wong Fui Yoong
Wong Fui Yoong
1 year ago

The nationality of David Popovici should be Romania, not Italy 🙂

1 year ago

Any females?

1 year ago
Reply to  Kristina

No it’s a male ranking list. It’s at the top too.

1 year ago

David Popovici is not on top 25?
Big mistake!!!

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