Swimming World’s Pre-Olympic Male Rankings: The Top-25 Ahead of the Tokyo Games

caeleb-dressel, tokyo olympics
Caeleb Dressel -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Swimming World’s Pre-Olympic Male Rankings: The Top-25 Ahead of the Tokyo Games

In June, Olympic Trials meets, particularly in Australia and the United States, completely shook up the status quo for the women’s swimming events at the Tokyo Olympics. Incredible performances from Aussies Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and Emma McKeon set each of them up as favorites for individual Olympic gold, and that combined with rough performances from some women at the U.S. Trials completely shook up the top of the rankings for the top 25 female swimmers in the world.

However, for the men’s rankings, performances from the month of June made much less of an impact on what we will expect at in Tokyo. Only four or five of the 14 individual men’s events look much different than they did in May. This list of the top-25 male swimmers in the world, again with the focus squarely on how they are set up to perform at the upcoming Olympics, includes a lot of familiar faces at the top. The top six swimmers here were all gold medalists at the last major international competition, the 2019 World Championships.

And the No. 1 swimmer in the world? Exactly the same man considered a shoo-in for that spot for almost the entire period since the last Olympics.

1. Caeleb Dressel, USA

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Caeleb Dressel — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Caeleb Dressel’s performances at the U.S. Olympic Trials did nothing but reinforce the conviction that Dressel will be one of the stars of the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps the star in the swimming pool. At Trials, Dressel swam a 47.39 in the 100 free, which is second in the world rankings behind Kliment Kolesnikov, and he also swam the third-fastest performance ever in the 100 fly, a 49.76 which only he has surpassed, and tied his American record in the 50 free at 21.04. Dressel will not only be favored for all three gold medals, but he could definitely take down all three world records. And Dressel will figure heavily into at least three and possibly four relays, and he will be absolutely critical to any hope of U.S. gold in those events.

2. Adam Peaty, Great Britain

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

So far this year, the world has gotten a little bit closer to Adam Peaty. Arno Kamminga joined him in the sub-58 club for the 100 breast, and younger swimmers like Michael Andrew and Nicolo Martinenghi have reached 58-low territory. But Peaty has been so good for so long, and he’s improved the 100 breast world record by more than a second and a half in his career. At the 2019 World Championships, he completed “Project 56” by swimming under 57 for the first time, and he will surely threaten his world record of 56.88 at the Tokyo Olympics. Peaty has been as quick as 57.39 this year, and he is also the only man to ever break 26 in the 50 breast.

3. Kristof Milak, Hungary

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Kristof Milak: Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Insidefoto

Kristof Milak will make his Olympic debut at age 21 in Tokyo, and he will take aim at the 1:50 barrier in the 200 fly. Milak shocked the world when he broke Michael Phelps’ world record in the event with aa 1:50.73 at the 2019 World Championships, and he has twice swum faster than Phelps’ former world record, including a 1:51.10 at the European Championships. It would be a stunner if Milak does not capture Olympic gold in the event since he is ranked more than three seconds ahead of any other swimmer this year. He is also the favorite for silver in the 100 fly, where his 50.18 from the European Championships ranks him fourth all-time behind Dressel, Phelps and Milorad Cavic.

4. Daiya Seto, Japan

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Daiya Seto — Photo Courtesy: Fabio Ferrari/LaPresse

Daiya Seto will be the standard-bearer for Japan at its home Tokyo Olympics, and he will be a medal threat in three events, a gold medal contender in two and the favorite in the first event on the swimming program, the men’s 400 IM. Seto captured golds in both IMs at the 2019 World Championships as well as silver in the 200 fly. He had previously won world titles in the 400 IM in 2013 and 2015 and also Olympic bronze in the event in 2016. Seto actually swam his lifetime bests in both IMs shortly before the pandemic began, a 1:55.55 in the 200 IM that ranks tied for seventh all-time and a 4:06.09 in the 400 IM that is fifth all-time, and he enters the Olympic summer as a favorite for gold medals in both. This year, he is ranked first in the world in the 400 IM at 4:09.02 but only 11th in the 200 IM at 1:57.41.

5. Evgeny Rylov, Russia

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Evgeny Rylov — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Evgeny Rylov, the 24-year-old from Russia, captured Olympic bronze in the 200 back in 2016 and then won two straight world titles in the event in 2017 and 2019.  Rylov swam a 1:53.23 in the 200 back at Russia’s Olympic Trials last month, good for fifth-fastest all-time and faster than any other currently active swimmer. He also swam a 52.12 in the 100 back, which is faster than any world title-winning time ever but still off his best time of 51.97 from 2019, which made him just the fourth swimmer to ever crack 52 in the event. The 100 back at the Tokyo Olympics should be a good battle for gold with Ryan Murphy, Xu Jiayu and countryman Kliment Kolesnikov, but Rylov is the clear favorite in the 200-meter distance.

6. Anton Chupkov, Russia

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Anton Chupkov — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Anton Chupkov is only at the absolute elite level in one event, but he has redefined the limits in his signature 200 breast. He followed up an Olympic bronze medal with two straight world titles and he broke the world record in 2019 with his 2:06.12. And Chupkov swims the race a lot differently than most of his competitors: he lengthens his stroke and relaxes over the first 100 meters before accelerating significantly on the back half. He frequently swims each of the last two lengths in under 32 seconds, which is all but unheard of. At the Tokyo Olympics, he will face a significant battle for Olympic gold with Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook and Japan’s Shoma Sato, both of whom have swum within three tenths of the world record this year.

7. Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia

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

No male swimmer has improved his stock on this list more in 2021 than Kliment Kolesnikov. For years considered a rising star in the backstroke events, the 20-year-old Kolesnikov is now the world’s fastest 100 freestyler as well as a legitimate gold-medal contender in backstroke. He swam a 47.31 at Russia’s Olympic Trials to improve to 10th all-time in the event, and that remains the fastest time in the world this year. He will be a medal contender in the event for the Olympics along with a key piece of Russia’s impressive 400 free relay. Additionally, Kolesnikov twice broke his world record in the 50 back at the European championships, dropping the mark to 23.80, and he swam a 52.13 in the 100 back as a medley relay leadoff (and an unofficial 52.09 on a mixed medley relay leadoff) to climb the world rankings and cement his status as an Olympic medal contender in multiple events. If Kolesnikov can duplicate those performances at the Olympics, he could climb much higher on this list.

8. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy

Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy celebrates on his way out after winning in the men's 800m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 24 July 2019. Henrik Christiansen of Norway (R) finishes second.

Gregorio Paltrinieri — Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Gregorio Paltrinieri, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 free, might be higher on this list, but he dealt with mononucleosis in late June, and it’s unclear how that diagnosis impacted his training. Still, Paltrinieri will be a factor for gold in three races in Tokyo, the 800 free and 10k open water race in addition to his signature mile. He is the reigning world champion in the 800 free, he swam a 7:40.22 in August 2020 and then a 7:41.96 in April, far faster than anyone else has swum since 2019. He took down his own European record in the 1500 free last year with a 14:33.10, improving on his own status as the second-fastest man in history, although he should have some challenges for the gold medal in that race. And Paltrinieri qualified to swim the unpredictable 10k open water race at the Olympics after finishing sixth at the 2019 World Championships.

9. Duncan Scott, Great Britain

Duncan Scott; 14th April 2021, London Aquatics Centre, London, England ; 2021 British Swimming Selection Trials

Duncan Scott — Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr

Duncan Scott was a newer face to the international scene when he qualified for the 100 free final at the Rio Olympics and then swam on a pair of silver medal-winning British relays, but he will head to his second Olympics with a target on his back. Scott pulled off one of the most amazing relay legs ever when he pulled Great Britain from behind to win gold in the men’s 400 medley relay at the 2019 World Championships, his 46.14 the second-quickest in history. Scott also tied for bronze in the 200 free at Worlds and took fifth in the 200 IM, but so far in 2021, he has swum times of 47.87 in the 100 free, 1:44.47 in the 200 free and 1:55.90 in the 200 IM. At the Tokyo Olympics, he will be a gold-medal contender in the 200 free and a medal contender in his other events along with a key factor on British 800 free and 400 medley relays in the hunt for gold.

10. Ryan Murphy, USA

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Ryan Murphy — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At the 2016 Olympics, Ryan Murphy put together the best performance of his career as he swept gold medals in the 100 and 200 back and then broke the world record in the 100 back while leading the United States to a gold medal in the 400 medley relay. Since then, Murphy has not won an individual world title, but he remains among the top backstrokers in the world and a favorite to challenge for gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Murphy comfortably won both backstroke events, swimming the third-fastest time in the world in the 100 back (52.22) behind the Russian duo of Kliment Kolesnikov and Evgeny Rylov and the second-quickest effort in the 200 back (1:54.20) behind Rylov, and it seems fair to expect quicker from the American in Tokyo.

11. Kyle Chalmers, Australia

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Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Kyle Chalmers was just 18 when he came from behind to stun a loaded field to win Olympic gold in the 100 free in Rio. The teenager dripped potential after taking down a field of decorated veteran sprinters in an event that typically favors the experienced. But Chalmers faced challenges in the years since Rio, including a heart surgery in 2017 and an arthroscopic shoulder procedure in November 2020. But he has bounced back nicely this year. Now 23, Chalmers won the 100 free at Australia’s Olympic Trials in 47.59, ranking him third in the world in the event. Chalmers ranks sixth all-time at 47.08, swum as he pushed Caeleb Dressel to the finish at the 2019 World Championships before settling for silver, and he is arguably Dressel’s strongest threat in an individual event in Tokyo. Chalmers also won the 200 free in 1:45.48, and he is a key for Australia’s 800 free relay gold medal hopes.

12. Xu Jiayu, China

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Xu Jiayu — Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Xu Jiayu is the two-time world champion in the 100 back, and he will be in the hunt to improve upon his Olympic silver medal from 2016 this summer. Xu swam a time of 51.86 in 2017, just one hundredth off Ryan Murphy’s world record, and although he has not improved on that time in the four years since, he swam a 52.88 at China’s Olympic Trials earlier this year despite being pre-selected to swim the event at the Tokyo Olympics. Murphy and Evgeny Rylov should each pose challenges in what should be a close and exciting race at the Games. Xu has not had as much success internationally in the 200 back, but he ranks eighth all-time at 1:53.99.

13. Michael Andrew, USA

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Michael Andrew — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Michael Andrew was not one of the top 25 two months ago, but he shot up this list with his performances at U.S. Olympic Trials. Andrew became the third-fastest performer ever in the 100 breast with his 58.14, and then he swam a 1:55.26 in the 200 IM (dropping a second and a half from his best time) to move himself to fifth all-time and establish himself as a bona fide favorite for gold in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. Andrew also ranks fourth in the world in the 50 free prior to Tokyo with a 21.48, so he could be in line for medals in all three of his individual events, and he will definitely factor into the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay. If Andrew delivers on all his potential at the Olympics, he will make another huge jump up this ranking.

14. Elijah Winnington, Australia

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Elijah Winnington — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Elijah Winnington is a new name to this list, but he is a favorite to win an Olympic gold medal as a 21-year-old. Currently, Winnington’s international claim-to-fame is helping Australia earn gold in the 800 free relay at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and claiming a pair of bronze medals at the World Junior Championships in 2017. Winnington has never competed at a long course World Championships. But at Australia’s Olympic Trials earlier this year, Winnington swam a 3:42.65 to win the 400 free, combining with Jack McLoughlin to lock defending gold medalist Mack Horton out of the event for the Olympics. Winnington is the fastest swimmer in the world for 2021 and the ninth-fastest in history in the event, and he now owns the fastest lifetime best of anyone going to Tokyo. Winnington also swam a 1:45.55 200 free, and he will contribute to an 800 free relay team with gold medal aspirations.

15. Arno Kamminga, Netherlands

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Arno Kamminga — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Arno Kamminga has never swum in a final at a World Championships, and he has never been to an Olympics, but his recent exploits in the breaststroke events have earned him a high ranking here and status as Olympic medal favorite in two events. In December, he swam a 2:06.85 in the 200 breast, making him one of just five men to ever swim under 2:07, and he finished second at the European Championships in 2:07.35. But Kamminga made a huge statement in the 100 breast in April when he swam a 57.90 that made him just the second man ever to break 58, following Adam Peaty. In quickly improving fields in the men’s breaststroke events, Kamminga is a newer face that is making a major impression. Kamminga quickly made an impression in the event at the European Championships, when he took silver behind Peaty and almost broke 58 again.

16. Zac Stubblety-Cook, Australia

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

Zac Stubblety-Cook is another new add to this list from the previous incarnation after he narrowly missed Anton Chupkov’s 200 breast world record at Australia’s Olympic Trials. He swam a 2:06.28, behind only Chupkov’s 2:06.12 from two years ago. Stubblety-Cook has been on the international scene for a few years, making his senior international debut in 2018 and winning silver in the 200 breast at the Pan Pacific Championships, and then he was fourth in the 200 breast at the 2019 World Championships, but he was overshadowed slightly as Australian teammate Matthew Wilson tied the world record in the semifinals and then earned silver in the final. Now, Wilson barely snuck onto the Olympic team while Stubblety-Cook is set up to make a run at gold. He also won the Australian Trials in the 100 breast at 59.69 and will likely factor into the 400 medley relay.

17. Shoma Sato, Japan

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Shoma Sato — Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Japan has a long history of incredibly successful 200 breaststrokers, and the latest is just 19 years old. Shoma Sato has never swum at a World Championships, and just two years ago, he was the silver medalist in the event at the 2019 World Junior Championships in 2:09.56. Now, he’s the second-fastest man in history at 2:06.40 after he took a run at Chupkov’s world record at Japan’s Olympic Trials in April. The men’s 200 breast has become extremely competitive with Chupkov, Stubblety-Cook and Sato all having been 2:06s this year, but Sato will be in the hunt at the Tokyo Olympics as one of Japan’s top gold medal hopes at its home Olympic Games. He will look to join 2004 and 2008 gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima as a 200 breast champion.

18. Jack McLoughlin, Australia

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Jack McLoughlin — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Jack McLoughlin is the second of the Australian middle distance stars whose efforts kept Mack Horton off the Olympic team in the 400 free. He posted a 3:43.27 in the 400 free at Australian Trials for the second-fastest time in the world behind countryman Elijah Winnington, and he swam a 7:42.51 in the 800 free for second in the world behind world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri. He is now 13th all-time in both events. McLoughlin is 26, and he actually swam at the Rio Olympics in the 1500 free, and he won that event for his first international gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but he has come down in distance in the years since. His highest finish at the 2019 World Championships was fourth, missing the medals in the 800 free by just over a half-second.

19. Danas Rapsys, Lithuania

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Danas Rapsys — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

This might seem high for a 25-year-old who has never made it past the preliminaries at the Olympics, never won a medal at the long course World Championships and has not recorded any stunning swims in recent months, but Danas Rapsys took the world by storm in the 200 free prior to the pandemic. He touched first in the World Championships final but was disqualified for a false start, and his lifetime best of 1:44.38, which ranks him sixth all-time, is the quickest by any swimmer since 2013. Rapsys also finished a narrow fourth in the 400 free at the 2019 World Championships, and during the 2020 ISL season, he posted the fastest time in the 400 free and the third-fastest time in the 200 free.

20. David Popovici, Romania

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David Popovici — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

16-year-old Romanian David Popovici was nowhere near the top 25 swimmers in the world at the start of July, but he rocketed himself into the conversation with startling times at the European Junior Championships in Rome: a 47.56 and then a 47.30 in the 100 free followed by a 1:45.26 in the 200 free. Popovici is now a medal favorite in the 100 free, and given his youth and improvement curve, it’s within the realm of possibility the could even threaten the likes of Caeleb Dressel for gold. If Popovici does make the Olympic podium, he would be the youngest men’s Olympic medalist in swimming since Daniel Gyurta took bronze in the 200 breast in 2004. Popovici could also get into the 1:44 range and chase a medal in the 200 free.

21. Katsuhiro Matsumoto, Japan

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Katsuhiro Matsumoto — Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

At the 2019 World Championships, Katsuhiro Matsumoto touched third in the 200 free, but he was bumped up to the silver medal when Rapsys was disqualified. But already in 2021, Matsumoto has done enough to warrant gold medal consideration in the 200 free, especially considering the home-country advantage Japan is likely to gain at the Tokyo Olympics. Matsumoto won Japan’s Olympic Trials in 1:44.65, which ranks him third in the world and 11th all-time in the event. His combination of experience and recent impressive form plus the location of these Games puts him in line as one of the favorites for this race for Tokyo.

22. Chase Kalisz, USA

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Chase Kalisz — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2017, Chase Kalisz looked like the heir apparent to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the individual medley events when he swept the 200 IM and 400 IM world titles, but Kalisz was much less impressive at the 2019 Worlds, finishing third in the 200 IM and missing the final entirely in the 400 IM. It was only after Kalisz qualified for the U.S. Olympic team that he revealed a shoulder injury had severely hampered his preparation that season. Now, he looks back in a position to challenge for medals at the Tokyo Olympics. He won the 400 IM at U.S. Olympic Trials in 4:09.09, ranking him second in the world behind Daiya Seto, so Kalisz should be a medal favorite and possibly even a challenger for gold in that event. His 200 IM season best of 1:56.97 only ranks him seventh in the world, but he should be in line for improvement to put him into the medal mix.

23. Martin Malyutin, Russia

MALYUTIN Martin RUS 200 Freestyle Men Final Gold Medal Swimming Budapest - Hungary 21/5/2021 Duna Arena XXXV LEN European Aquatic Championships Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Martin Malyutin — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Martin Malyutin, 22, is a newer face on the international scene in contention for multiple medals in Tokyo after multiple breakout meets over the past few years. When Rapsys was disqualified in the 200 free at Worlds, Malyutin was a beneficiary, moving up into the joint bronze medal position. So far this year, he has captured European titles in both the 200 and 400 free. Among Olympic qualifiers, he ranks third in the world in the 400 free (3:44.18) and fourth in the 200 free (1:44.79), and he also will provide the strongest leg on a Russian men’s 800 free relay team that will be in contention to win a gold medal.

24. Gabriele Detti, Italy

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Gabriele Detti — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Gabriele Detti has for years been overshadowed by his Italian compatriot, former training partner and fellow distance standout Gregorio Paltrinieri, but Detti has built a very solid résumé of his own. After winning bronze medals in Rio in the 400 and 1500 free, he won the world title in the 800 free in 2017 while adding bronzes in the 400 free at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. Detti has eschewed his old focus on the 1500 free in recent years, but he is currently ranked fifth in the world in the 800 free and seventh in the 400 free, with obvious potential for faster performances. Detti has a good chance to win medals the 400 and 800 free this summer and could be in the gold-medal hunt in the 400 should circumstances go his way.

25. Andrei Minakov, Russia

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Andrei Minakov — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / deepbluemedia

Andrei Minakov is just the second teenager on this list after Shoma Sato, and the future Stanford swimmer has a bright future ahead after he captured silver at his first senior World Championships in the 100 fly in 2019. He ranks 14th in history in that event in 50.83, and in 2021, he ranks fifth in the world in the 100 free in 47.77 and tenth in the 100 fly in 51.17. The 19-year-old figures to play a significant role in the individual 100 fly at the Tokyo Olympics along with Russia’s gold medal-contending 400 free relay, and he likely has a long and productive career ahead of him.

THE NEXT 20 IN CONSIDERATION (alphabetical order)

  • Zach Apple, USA
  • Ilya Borodin, Russia
  • Federico Burdisso, Italy
  • Lewis Clareburt, New Zealand
  • Tom Dean, Great Britain
  • Bobby Finke, USA
  • Bruno Fratus, Brazil
  • Luke Greenbank, Great Britain
  • Mitch Larkin, Australia
  • Chad Le Clos, South Africa
  • Florent Manaudou, France
  • Nicolo Martinenghi, Italy
  • Alessandro Miressi, Italy
  • Ben Proud, Great Britain
  • Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine
  • Ilya Shymanovich, Belarus
  • Kieran Smith, USA
  • Matthew Temple, Australia
  • David Verraszto, Hungary
  • James Wilby, Great Britain

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