Pre-World Championships Rankings: The Top 25 Female Swimmers in the World

ariarne titmus
Ariarne Titmus -- Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

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Pre-World Championships Rankings: The Top 25 Female Swimmers in the World

With the next edition of the FINA World Championships approaching, it’s time to consider who are the best swimmers in the world. Certainly, ranking swimmers across different events is a highly subjective exercise, and we must choose whether to view consistency or best times or performances at major championship meets as more important.

This set of rankings will judge the 25 best swimmers in the world, with long course performances and abilities weighed most heavily. We are trying to see what swimmers are the best right now, a week-and-a-half 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.

With those criteria in mind, there was an easy choice for the No. 1 spot on this list, the best swimmer in the world right now and on the short list of contenders for the top spot last August.

1. Ariarne Titmus, Australia

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Ariarne Titmus — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

The most anticipated showdown of the Tokyo Olympics saw Ariarne Titmus emerge victorious in the 400 freestyle over Katie Ledecky, and two days later, Titmus added a second individual gold in the 200 free, and she finished the meet by claiming silver in the 800 free. Her résumé was nearly complete, save for one accomplishment: a world record. Well, Titmus took care of that last month at Australia’s national championships. While racing only the clock, Titmus clocked a time of 3:56.40 in the 400 free to break Ledecky’s six-year-old world record. She just missed another all-time best in the 200 free. A lengthy break from training following the Olympics did not set Titmus back, and she is now swimming at a higher level than during her breakthrough campaign one year ago. No, she will not be competing at Worlds, but her presence will loom over the meet as no swimmer in Budapest is likely to approach Titmus’ incredible times.

2. Emma McKeon, Australia

world-cup-MCKEON Emma LON London Roar (LON) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 6 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Emma McKeon — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

It has been a quiet 2022 so far for Australian sprinter Emma McKeon, but her performances in 2021 are more than enough to keep her at No. 2 on this list. In fact, if not for Titmus’ record-breaking form, McKeon would likely still be No. 1. She won seven medals at the Olympics, making her the first female swimmer ever to stand on the podium seven times at a single Games. She swept gold medals in the 100 freestyle and 50 freestyle, and she swam scintillating splits as the third swimmer in Australia’s gold-medal-winning 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay. After Tokyo, McKeon backed up her status as the world’s best sprinter with her performances during both the ISL season and the FINA World Cup. She did not compete at Australia’s championships, but she is accepting a wild-card bid to the Commonwealth Games, so the 28-year-old will compete on the major stage later this year.

3. Katie Ledecky, USA

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Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It has been a strong start to the new Olympic cycle for Katie Ledecky. The 25-year-old won the inaugural gold medal in the 1500 freestyle in Tokyo before winning her third consecutive gold medal in the 800 free (along with silver medals in the 200 free and 800 free relay), and Ledecky has posted 800 free performances faster than her mark from Tokyo on multiple occasions this year. She won all four of her events at the U.S. International Team Trials in May, and she will be heavily favored to win gold medals in the 800 and 1500 free at Worlds. A gold in the 800 free would be her fifth straight, which no other swimmer female or male has accomplished in any event. Ledecky will also be favored to reclaim the world title in the 400 free in Titmus’ absence, and she will try to lead a new-look U.S. women’s 800 free relay back to the podium.

4. Kaylee McKeown, Australia

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Kaylee McKeown — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Kaylee McKeown was the backstroke queen of the Tokyo Olympics as she out-dueled Kylie Masse and Regan Smith for gold in the 100 back, and a few days later, she pulled away to win another title in the 200 back. She added a third gold when she led off Australia’s 400 medley relay squad that ended up topping the podium. The 20-year-old McKeown will be the favorite for gold in both events once again at the World Championships, and she will also be a medal favorite in the 200 IM, an event in which she finished 2021 with the fastest time in the world. McKeown will not race the 400 IM at Worlds, but she will at the Commonwealth Games later in the year, and she currently ranks No. 2 in the world in that race.

5. Lilly King, USA

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Lilly King — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At the U.S. International Team Trials, Lilly King swept the breaststroke events, and she broached the possibility that she could win gold in all three events at the World Championships. King, 25, is the two-time defending world champion in the 50 and 100 breast, and because of swimmers either not qualifying for Worlds or choosing to skip the meet plus the ban on all Russian swimmers competing in Budapest, King will be the only top-four finisher from either the 100 or 200 breast at the Olympics who will be racing at Worlds. After breaking 2:20 for the first time while winning silver in the 200 breast in Tokyo, King ranks first in the world in that event so far in 2022, and she also ranks a close second in the 100 breast behind Japan’s Reona Aoki. King’s top challenge at Worlds could come in the 50 breast, where she will face off against 17-year-old world-record holder Bendetta Pilato.

6. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden

SJOSTROM Sarah SWE Gold Medal 50m Freestyle Women Final Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 21/12/2021 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Sarah Sjostrom — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Sarah Sjostrom had a difficult Olympic year after she fractured her wrist in February 2021, and she barely made it back in time to compete at her fourth Olympics in Tokyo. Sjostrom finished that meet with just one medal, a silver in the 50 freestyle, and in the months after that, she quickly showed she was back to her normal form as she contributed to an Energy Standard victory in the ISL final and then won seven medals at the Short Course World Championships in December. Heading into Worlds, she holds the top time in the world in the 50 free and 50 fly, and she could certainly factor into the medal conversation in the 100 free and 100 fly. Of course, Sjostrom is also one of the most decorated swimmers in history, with eight individual world titles in her career, and she is a past winner of the Female World Swimmer of the Year award. Sjostrom’s accomplishments throughout her career give her an edge in these rankings.

7. Yui Ohashi, Japan

OHASHI Yui TOK Tokyo Frog Kings (TOK) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 6 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Yui Ohashi — Photo Courtesy: Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Yui Ohashi has hardly competed in 2022, and her only swim registering on the world rankings was a 2:10.70 in the 200 IM at Japan’s national championships in April. But the last time there was a major international competition, Ohashi was the world’s dominant individual medley swimmer, as she held off American Emma Weyant for gold in the 400 IM and then overtook Alex Walsh to win the 200 IM. Yes, other swimmers have eclipsed Ohashi’s gold-medal-winning times so far in 2022, and she will not be the favorite in either event heading to Worlds, but Olympic accomplishments still hold significant weight, especially when the Games were just 10 months ago, so the 26-year-old Ohashi sits at No. 7.

8. Zhang Yufei, China

ZHANG Yufei CHN Women's 200m butterfly heats Swimming Men's 4x100m freestyle final Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 17/12/21 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Zhang Yufei — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Zhang Yufei was one of the breakout swimmers of the Olympics last year. She took silver in the 100 butterfly, finishing just five hundredths behind gold medalist Maggie Mac Neil, and then she dominated the 200 fly, winning gold by almost a second-and-a-half. An hour after the 200 fly final, Zhang swam the second leg of China’s 800 free relay that went on to clinch a surprising gold medal. She returned to the international stage in December for the Short Course World Championships, and Zhang once again cruised to gold in the 200 fly. Zhang does not appear on the 2022 world rankings in any events, but with Mac Neil not competing in individual events in Budapest, Zhang will be favored for gold in both butterfly events, and she will be a key contributor to a variety of medal-contending Chinese relays.

9. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa

tatjana-shoenmaker-SA Short course swimming championships - Image: BOOGS Photography / Andrew Mc Fadden

Tatjana Shoenmaker — Photo Courtesy: BOOGS Photography / Andrew Mc Fadden

Tatjana Schoenmaker will not be competing at the World Championships this month, but she was the dominant breaststroker of the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was not seen as a significant medal threat in the 100 breast entering the meet, but she ended up with the top time of the Games (her Olympic record in prelims), and then she was dominant in the 200 breast, narrowly missing the world record in prelims and semifinals before claiming the mark on her way to gold in the final, becoming the first woman to ever break 2:19 in the process. Schoenmaker’s top times this year include a 1:06.06 in the 100 breast and 2:24.01 in the 200 breast, but she will surely swim much faster when she is in action at the Commonwealth Games.

10. Siobhan Haughey, Hong Kong

HAUGHEY Siobhan Bernadette HKG Gold Medal and New World Record Women’s 200m Freestyle Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 16/12/21 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Siobhan Haughey — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Like the previous two entries on this list, Siobhan Haughey has been quiet so far in 2022, but she was magnificent in 2021 at the Olympics and after. In Tokyo, she led the 200 free final for the majority of the race before Titmus overtook her at the end, but Haughey secured an impressive silver medal, and she matched that finish in the 100 free final. She became the first Hong Kong Olympian in any sport to win multiple medals at the Olympics. In the fall, Haughey was the dominant 100 and 200 freestyler during the ISL season, and she was very successful in the 400 free as well, and then she won short course world titles in the 100 free and 200 free in December, taking down the world record in the 200-meter event. Haughey is absolutely a medal favorite in the 100 and 200 free for Budapest.

11. Summer McIntosh, Canada

MCINTOSH Summer TOR Toronto Titans (TOR) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 5 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Summer McIntosh is a star of the future, and maybe that future includes this upcoming World Championships. She made her international debut at the Olympics and narrowly missed out on the medal podium with fourth-place finishes in the 400 freestyle and in the 800 free relay (she was also ninth in the 200 free), and then she took silver in the 400 free along with two relay medals at the Short Course World Championships. McIntosh will be in the running for multiple individual medals in Budapest since she enters the meet ranked first in the world in the 400 IM (4:29.12) and 200 butterfly (2:05.81) as well as third in the 400 free (4:01.59) and fourth in the 200 free (1:55.39). She will also lead a Canadian 800 free relay that could reach the podium. McIntosh has been rapidly improving over the last year, so her potential seems nearly unlimited.

12. Maggie Mac Neil, Canada

maggie-mac-neil-MACNEIL Margaret CAN Women's 100m Butterfly Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 20/12/21 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Maggie Mac Neil — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

At the last edition of the World Championships, Maggie Mac Neil pulled off an astonishing upset over Sarah Sjostrom in the 100 butterfly, but it was no surprise to see Mac Neil pulling off an Olympic gold medal in the event last summer. She touched out Zhang Yufei and became the second-fastest swimmer in history, and she made it two Olympics in a row with a Canadian woman winning an individual gold (after Penny Oleksiak in 2016). Mac Neil also won two relay medals in Tokyo. At the Short Course World Championships in December, Mac Neil set a world record to win the 50 backstroke, and she also won gold in the 100 fly and three other relay medals, but she was off her best form at the NCAA Championships, and she later revealed she was suffering from a fractured elbow and she would only swim relays at the World Championships. Mac Neil originally committed to swim her graduate transfer year at Cal, but she later decided to head to LSU and reunite with former Michigan assistant coach Rick Bishop.

13. Kylie Masse, Canada

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Kylie Masse — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

The third consecutive Canadian swimmer to appear on this list, Kylie Masse has been the most consistent backstroker in the world over the past five years. When the World Championships were last held in Budapest in 2017, Masse won gold in the 100 back and broke an eight-year-old world record, and she defended her world title in 2019. While the event has sped up considerably in the years since, Masse has kept pace, and her 57.72 at the Olympics earned her a silver medal while making her the second-fastest swimmer in history. Masse was also the Olympic silver medalist behind Kaylee McKeown in the 200 back. Masse will be a medal favorite in all three backstroke distances at Worlds this year.

14. Regan Smith, USA

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Regan Smith — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, Regan Smith was the top female swimmer of the meet after she crushed the world record in the 200 backstroke and dominated the field to win a world title, and then she led off the U.S. women’s 400 medley relay with a world record in the 100 back. While Smith will not defend her world title in the 200 back after impressive swims from Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White left Smith third in the event at the U.S. International Team Trials, she will be in the mix in the 100 back and 200 fly in Budapest. She blasted a 57.76 in the 100 back to win the event at Trials, notching the top time in the world, and that set up a rematch with McKeown and Masse after both swimmers finished ahead of Smith in last year’s Olympic final. The 20-year-old Smith also qualified in the 200 fly after winning Olympic silver in the event last year.

15. Mollie O’Callaghan, Australia

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Mollie O’Callaghan — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Australian greats Emma McKeonCate Campbell and Ariarne Titmus will all be absent from the World Championships, but Australia will still enter as favorites in both women’s freestyle relays thanks to this 18-year-old. O’Callaghan won three Olympic medals, including two gold, as a relay alternate, but she arguably should have swum on the 800 free relay finals quartet after recording a blistering 1:55.11 leadoff split in prelims. O’Callaghan has been even better so far in 2022 as she swam the world’s fastest time in the 100 free (52.49) in winning the event at the Australian Championships. O’Callaghan also swam the third-fastest time in the world in the 200 free (1:54.94), and she trails only Titmus and Katie Ledecky.

16. Alex Walsh, USA

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Alex Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In her debut at a major international competition last year, Alex Walsh was the leader in the 200 IM Olympic final before Yui Ohashi overtook her at the finish. Now, Walsh will swim at her first World Championships as the favorite in the 200 IM. She won the event at the U.S. International Team Trials in 2:07.84, which was the fastest time in the world since 2019, and no one else has come within a second this year. Walsh has skills in all four strokes, and she has improved considerably on the finishing freestyle over the past year. Walsh will also swim the 800 free relay for the U.S. at Worlds, and while she only has one individual event on her slate, she is really, really good in that one event.

17. Hali Flickinger, USA

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Hali Flickinger — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

One of the best 200 butterfly swimmers in the world for the past five years, Hali Flickinger won her first two Olympic medals last year in Tokyo as she claimed bronze in the 400 IM before again placing third in her signature event. She will be a medal favorite again in the 200 fly in Budapest, and while she did not qualify for the Worlds team in the 400 IM, she will compete as part of the U.S. women’s 800 free relay in Budapest. Flickinger’s 200 fly skills and consistency in an event that has been both weak and unpredictable internationally secure her the spot here.

18. Torri Huske, USA

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Torri Huske — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Torri Huske burst onto the scene in 2021 when she broke the American record in the 100 butterfly at Olympic Trials and then finished fourth in the event at the Olympics, missing the podium by just one hundredth. Now, after a freshman year at Stanford that included both successes and setbacks, Huske is set to take a larger role for the U.S. in Budapest. She will race the 50 and 100 freestyle in addition to the 50 and 100 butterfly, and she will be a part of American efforts in the women’s 400 free and medley relays as well as the mixed-gender version of those events. That adds up to a potential 16 swims over the eight-day meet. Huske is a contender to at least make the final in all her individual events, but her best medal chance will come in her signature 100 fly, where she currently holds the top time in the world for 2021 at 56.28.

19. Li Bingjie, China

LI Bingjie CHN Women's 800m Freestyle Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates 18/12/21 Etihad Arena FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) Photo Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Li Bingjie — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Like several others on this list, Li Bingjie has not done much in terms of competition thus far in 2022, but she was one of just two individual medalists for China at the Olympics (bronze in the 400 free), and on the anchor leg of China’s 800 free relay a few days later, she held off Katie Ledecky to secure gold. Later in the year, Li dominated the 400 and 800 free at the Short Course World Championships. She has been around on the international scene for a while, with World Championship medals in her pocket from 2017, and she should be in the mix again this year.

20. Claire Curzan, USA

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Claire Curzan — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Claire Curzan is another American teenager who got some Olympic experience last year but will take on a much larger role in 2022. She did not qualify for the 100 butterfly final at the Olympics, but at the Short Course World Championships, she brought home individual bronze medals in the 50 and 100 fly. Like teammate Torri Huske, she could also swim 16 races at Worlds between relays and her duties in the  50 and 100 fly, 100 free and 100 back. Curzan currently ranks second in the world in the 50 fly (25.49) and 100 fly (56.35), and she is third in the 100 back (58.39).

21. Benedetta Pilato, Italy

PILATO Benedetta ENS Energy Standard (ENS) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Benedetta Pilato — Photo Courtesy: Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

At last year’s European Championships, Benedetta Pilato took down Lilly King’s world record in the 50 breaststroke, and after placing second to King at the 2019 World Championships as a 14-year-old, the two will face off again in Budapest, with Pilato serving as perhaps the final obstacle to King’s hope of sweeping the breaststroke events. Pilato did swim at the Olympics last year, but she was disqualified in the 100 breaststroke prelims. She did earn a silver medal in the 50 breast at Short Course Worlds in December. Entering Budapest, her season-best time in the 50 breast (29.58) ranks her first in the world, and she also sits fifth in the 100 breast (1:05.70).

22. Reona Aoki, Japan

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Reona Aoki — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Reona Aoki is a 27-year-old who was 19th in the 100 breast at the Olympics. She has never won an Olympic or World Championships medal, although she did take bronze in the 100 breast at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships along with silver in the 100 breast and bronze in the 200 breast at that year’s Asian Games. But Aoki is entering this year’s Worlds with the world’s fastest time in the 100 breaststroke, a 1:05.19 that is faster than the silver-medal-winning mark from the Olympics. Aoki does not have the credentials to match most other swimmers on this list, so she will need to back up that performance at Worlds to retain her spot in the top-25.

23. Kate Douglass, USA

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Kate Douglass — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Last year, Kate Douglass was the Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 IM, but that’s not why she is ranked in the top-25. Nor is it because of her performance at the NCAA Championships, where she finished first and broke American records in all three of her individual events, the 50-yard free, 100-yard fly and 200-yard breast. Actually, it’s because Douglass looks like one of the top contenders to win a world title in the 200 breaststroke. She does not have much experience in the long course version of the race, but she finished second behind Lilly King at U.S. International Team Trials in 2:21.43, the second-fastest time in the world this year, and she locked Olympic bronze medalist Annie Lazor off the Worlds team in the event. With gold medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker and fourth-place finisher Evgeniia Chikunova also absent, Douglass has a big opportunity in the 200 breast. She skipped the 200 IM at this year’s Trials meet, but she will also race as a relay alternate in the 400 free relay.

24. Shayna Jack, Australia

Shayna Jack

Shayna Jack — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Another Australian sprinter makes the list here as Shayna Jack has returned from an anti-doping suspension and vaulted to the top of the world rankings. Jack will arrive in Budapest ranked second in the world in the 50 freestyle at 24.14 and second in the 100 free at 52.60, so she could contend for individual medals, and she will certainly play a key role in Australia’s 400 free relay that will again be favored to win a world title despite the absences of Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell.

25. Penny Oleksiak, Canada

Penny Oleksiak-Olympic Swimming Trials-f-22june2021Photo Scott Grant

Penny Oleksiak — Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant

The last spot on this list goes to Penny Oleksiak, who will turn 22 a few days before the World Championships begin. Oleksiak is now a veteran and almost six years removed from tying for gold in the 100 freestyle at the Rio Olympics, but she is still a consistent presence for the Canadian team. Her brilliant anchor splits helped Canada earn silver in the 400 free relay in Tokyo and bronze in the 400 medley relay, and she added a surprise bronze in the 200 free. She missed the podium by just seven hundredths in the 100 free while eclipsing her winning time from five years earlier. Oleksiak has not posted any breathtaking swims yet this year, but she will be a huge reason that Canada contends for medals in all three women’s relays at Worlds, and she could snare the first individual World Championships medal of her career.

ALSO IN CONSIDERATION (alphabetical order):

  • Phoebe Bacon, USA
  • Cate Campbell, Australia
  • Anna Elendt, Germany
  • Katie Grimes, USA
  • Louise Hansson, Sweden
  • Meg Harris, Australia
  • Kina Hayashi, Japan
  • Katinka Hosszu, Hungary
  • Lydia Jacoby, USA
  • Sarah Kohler, Germany
  • Annie Lazor, USA
  • Lani Pallister, Australia
  • Simona Quadarella, Italy
  • Lara Van Niekerk, South Africa
  • Erica Sullivan, USA
  • Emma Weyant, USA
  • Rhyan White, USA
  • Madison Wilson, Australia
  • Abbie Wood, Great Britain
  • Yang Junxuan, China
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