The Most Dominant Active Swimmers

FINA World Championships Adam Peaty
Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

By Jinq En Phee, Swimming World College Intern.

Most swim fans would agree that most dominant swimmer the world has ever seen would be Michael Phelps of USA. Phelps created history over and over again when he was active in his swimming career. He even raced a shark few weeks ago. Now that the GOAT has retired from the sport, the rest of the swimming world still goes on.

The FINA World Championships saw a lot of amazing swims, some surprise hits and misses, and nine world records being shattered. Some swimmers showed complete prowess in their best events, cementing their place as the most dominant active swimmers.

1. Adam Peaty (Great Britain)


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Adam Peaty’s consistency and dominance in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke events is something extraordinary. He had been on top of the world and has never lost a major international title since 2015.

“One of the grossest swims I have ever seen” was what the most decorated Olympian, Phelps, described Adam Peaty’s 100m breaststroke split in the 4x100m medley relay at the Olympic Games in Rio. Imagine getting a compliment like that from the G.O.A.T. himself. Peaty split a 56.59 during the breaststroke leg, and that was two full seconds faster than his nearest rival.

In his individual 100m breaststroke race in Rio, Peaty swam a 57.19 to win Great Britain’s first gold medal of the Games and broke his own world record in the process. The victory margin was 1.56 seconds. He was more than one and a half seconds ahead of second place winner…in a 100 meter race.

At the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, Peaty won both the 50 and 100 meter breaststroke golds, as expected.

In the 100m, he took down the championship record which he set two years ago in Kazan, with a 57.75 in the semifinals. He then went on and break it again with a 57.47 in the finals. Peaty was 1.32 seconds ahead of second place Kevin Cordes, making that a victory by a huge margin. Peaty is the second person to win the title in this event in two consecutive World Championships, after American Brendan Hansen (who won in 2005 and 2007).

Peaty went out in a swift 26.50 and came back in a 30.97. Swift is an understatement, as the timing of his first 50 of the two lap race was faster than what anyone else has ever done in the one lap sprint event. The closest anyone has ever come close to the impressive speed is Brazilian Joao Gomes Junior, who went a 26.52 en route to claiming the silver medal in the 50m breaststroke.

In the 50m event, Peaty broke his own world record in 25.95 seconds during the semifinals, becoming the first man to ever dip under 26 seconds in that event. He then went on the win the event with a 25.99 in the finals. His victory margin was 0.53 seconds.

Peaty is still improving. He’s the lone person under 58 seconds, and he’s well on his way to become the first person to crack the 57 second barrier in the 100m breaststroke. He has set a challenge to himself, and he calls it “Project 56”.

2. Katie Ledecky (USA)


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Katie Ledecky is the first female swimmer in history to win the 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m freestyle events at a single World Championships, and she did that at 18 years of age in Kazan in 2015.

Ledecky first rose to fame when she won an Olympic gold medal in the 800m freestyle in the London 2012 Games at just 15 years old, beating home town favorite Rebecca Adlington, who won bronze in the event. Ever since, she continued to win numerous titles in longer freestyle events at every single major international meet, shattering world records along the way. At the Pan Pacs in 2014, Ledecky won all the freestyle races from 200m to 1500m, and became the first woman since Janet Evans to hold world records in the 400m, 800m, and 1500m freestyle simultaneously after she broke Italian Federica Pellegrini’s 400m world record.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials, Ledecky decided to take the challenge and extend her domination in freestyle events to shorter distances, and so she added the 100m freestyle to her agenda. Although she finished seventh in the Olympic Trials in Omaha, she anchored the American team in the 4x100m freestyle relay in Rio to a silver medal, splitting a 52.79. She’s proven to all of us the she is capable of swimming fast in any distances in freestyle.

Ledecky had not lost a single individual freestyle race in a major international meet since 2013 until recently in the 200m freestyle at the Budapest World Championships. Pellegrini, the world record holder in that event, threw down a monstrous 28.82 in the last lap to win that event. That was Ledecky’s first international loss. Despite that, she still went on and claimed the gold medal in the 800m freestyle.

Beating everyone else in the field by more than half a pool length, or even lapping someone during a race is not an unusual thing for Ledecky. She’s nearly untouchable in distance freestyle events.

3. Sarah Sjostrom (Sweden)


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Sarah Sjostrom broke her first ever world record in the 100 meter butterfly at the 2009 World Championships in Rome at just 15 years of age. She swam a time of 56.06 to win the gold medal in the finals.

Sjostrom’s path to success wasn’t a smooth one, as she did not medal in her first two Olympic Games despite holding the world record in the 100m butterfly prior to the 2012 Games. She made her Olympic debut in 2008, finishing 27th in the 100m butterfly. At the London 2012 Olympics, she missed out on a podium finish in the 100m butterfly, finishing fourth with a time of 57.17. Her world record was broken in the finals by American Dana Vollmer during the finals swim.

If there’s one word to describe Sjostrom, it is perseverance. A year after the London Olympics, Sjostrom bounced back to claim the world title in the 100m butterfly at the World Championships in Barcelona. She also added a silver medal to her collection where she swam to second place in the 100m freestyle, behind Aussie Cate Campbell.

In July 2014, Sjostrom broke the 50m butterfly world record at the Swedish National Championships, with a time of 24.43. She shattered the old record by a large margin of 0.64 seconds, and became the first and only woman to swim under 25 seconds in that event to this date.

Sjostrom carried that momentum into Rio 2016, and won her first Olympic gold medal in the 100m butterfly, breaking her own world record in the process. Victory was certainly sweet after a long wait, as she also became the first Swedish woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. She also added a silver and a bronze to her medal haul, coming in second and third in the 200m and 100m freestyle respectively.

After her Rio success, Sjostrom parted ways with long time coach Carl Jenner, and started training under Johan Wallberg. Whatever magic Sjostrom and her new coach are doing is definitely working, as she became the first woman to swim under 52 seconds in the 100m freestyle just last week in Budapest. She swam the leadoff leg in the 4x100m freestyle relay for the Swedish team, and broke the world record in 51.71.

She also broke one of the longest standing world records— the 50m freestyle. Sjostrom swam a 23.67 in the semifinals in Budapest to crush the eight year old record held by Britta Steffen. Her success won her the best female performer of the meet in Budapest.

With a record of four, Sjostrom now holds the most individual world records in long course, surpassing Ledecky and Phelps. She’s definitely one of the most dominant butterfly swimmers in history, and is also arguably the best sprint freestyler in history.

4. Katinka Hosszu (Hungary)


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Known as the “Iron Lady” for her versatility, Hosszu trains under her husband Shane Tusup. At 28 years old, she shows no sign of age and mercy. At the Budapest World Championships, Hosszu won a total of four medals: two gold, one silver, and one bronze. They came in the 200m IM, 400m IM, 200m backstroke, and 200m butterfly, respectively.

Hosszu currently holds seven world records, two in long course and five in short course. She is the first swimmer to win one million dollars in cash prize, out of the FINA World Cup series.

After a disappointment in the London 2012 Olympics where she did not get on the podium in the 400IM, Hosszu came back stronger than ever. She had been dominating the 200m and 400m Individual Medley in every single meet since 2013. At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, she broke her first ever long course world record in the 200m IM in a time of 2:06.12.

At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she broke the 400m IM world record in a time of 4:26.36, slashing more than two full seconds off the previous world record held by Ye Shi Wen. She was also more than four second ahead of second place finisher Maya Dirado. After failing to medal at London 2012, Hosszu won three gold medals and one silver medal at Rio 2016.

At last week’s World Championships she racked in four more medals when she won the 200 and 400 IM.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Brett Davies

    What about Caleb Dressel he showed complete dominance in both the 100 free and 100fly

  2. Rick Parker

    What a joke! Caeleb Dressel wins 7 gold medals and doesn’t even get mentioned?

  3. Neil Morgan

    I think Caeleb Dressel was missed out because he’s a relative newcomer, but I agree that it looks like he’s going to be dominant in sprint events.

    • Clare Higgins

      I agree- I follow swimming and was blown away by Dressel- knew he was good but hadn’t realised how good!

  4. Елена Мягких

    Oh, wow! No Caeleb Dressel??? Even the Russian commentators at the latest World Champinship praised him as the new greatest swimmer after Michael Phelps retired! I guess whoever wrote the article have not watched the Championship?..

  5. Clare Higgins

    Glad Adam is getting real recognition he’s just so dominant. But agree Caleb stood out too. My big take from the champs was that swimming has 2 very exciting stars to step into the GOAT shaped hole

  6. avatar

    Placing Peaty above Ledecky is ridiculous, as are the comments about Dressel. Ledecky has been dominant for more than five years now, since 2012 (Olympic gold), unbeaten in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 across a huge range of distances, with three more big individual wins in 2017 swum faster than anyone except herself. At age 20, she has ten individual World Championship titles (tied with 32 yo Lochte and only behind 31 yo Phelps’ 15 which he claimed in 6 World Champs meets vs Ledecky’s 3 meets), and additionally she has four individual Olympic gold medals and two WRs in two Olympics. Peaty has four individual World Champs titles and one individual Olympic title across the past three seasons. If and when Peaty and Dressel get it done for five or more years in a row across multiple events and multiple Olympics, maybe the rank order changes.

    • avatar
      Jinq En

      Hi Pat, the list is not in order here.

      • avatar

        Well, the list certainly is nor in the right order. Using the numbers 1,2,3,4 in the article certainly implies a rank order absent any disclaimer in the article, wouldn’t you say?!!

  7. avatar
    Jinq En Phee

    Caleb Dressel had a really successful meet at worlds in Budapest, but in the swimmers in this article had been dominating their events for at least 2 years in international meets. Also note that they have each won at least an individual gold medal at the Olympics, and had also won their events in two consecutive world championships. Dressel wasn’t included in this article because he is a relatively new comer who had a stellar world championships. I’m not saying he’s not a great swimmer, he is. Dressel did dominate the World championships at Budapest, but he is not a ‘dominant swimmer’….or yet. The events where he won gold medals in have different winners almost every world championships, so if he’s able to continue that winning streak for upcoming years then great for him!
    p/s: Just an author’s opinion! Cheers.

  8. Jörgen Tisell

    Why is Sarah not no. 1? She holds 8 WR in both LC/SC more than any lswimmer live today!

    • avatar

      Sarah is not No. 1 because Sarah has won exactly one individual race in the Olympic Games in a career spanning more than ten years, and is alive in the same era as Katie Ledecky, that’s why.

  9. Norwo John

    totally Caeleb Dressel is the new star. He does multiple strokes not just the breast stroke.

  10. Ken Holland

    Nice and an international tribute to talent as well. !

  11. avatar

    Dressel can’t be. Presently he’s a one-race man. All the others not. I think Ledecky and Hosszu (tie) should be in the first place, they’re doing different things, one is the best in freestyle, the other is the best in allstyle.
    Sarah and/or Peaty could be the 3rd, but I think Pellegrini or Cseh would be better idea.