The Swimming World 10-Best Performances of the 2000s…So Far

Swimming World December 2020 - Swimmers of the Millenium's First 20 Years - 2000-19 - Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky

The Swimming World 10-Best Performances of the 2000s…So Far

A tradition at Swimming World is the annual compilation of the 10-best performances of the past year. But with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the number of competitions that were held in 2020, putting together that list for the past 12 months didn’t make sense. Yet, there was another option, one that complemented a celebration from the December issue of Swimming World.

One month after we selected the Swimmers of the Millennium (to this point), we have picked the top-10 performances of the millennium’s first 20 years. The swims that were selected were not just based on speed but carried a certain level of significance or marked a defining moment in the sport. As a way to create an even playing field on a global basis, selections were based on long-course swims, and athletes were limited to one performance each. To say the task was difficult would be an understatement, as several tremendous performances didn’t make the cut. However, we feel the selections that were made stand up as extraordinary.

Enjoy the choices, which are listed in chronological order.

In the comments, feel free to leave the swims you believe should have been included.

Ian Thorpe: 400 Freestyle (3:40.59) – September 16, 2000

Racing in front of his home crowd at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Ian Thorpe was under immense pressure as his country’s rising teenage star. As a world champion at 15 in 1998, nothing less than Olympic gold was expected of Thorpe. Despite the pressure heaped on his shoulders, all Thorpe did on the opening night of the Games was set a world record and capture gold by nearly three seconds in the 400 freestyle. Thorpe put the spectators at the Sydney Aquatic Centre into a frenzy, and maintained that madness later in the evening when he anchored Australia to gold in the 400 freestyle relay, marking the first time the United States lost the event in Olympic competition.

Inge de Bruijn: 100 Butterfly (56.61) – September 17, 2000

As the female headliner at the 2000 Olympics, Dutchwoman Inge de Bruijn stood on top of the podium on three occasions. While she prevailed in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, what she did in the 100 butterfly was her most impressive showing. Winning gold by more than a second, de Bruijn set a world record that would endure for nearly nine years. De Bruijn was so ahead of her time that her mid-56 performance remains an impressive mark two decades later and would keep her highly competitive in current-day international competition.

Natalie Coughlin: 100 Backstroke (59.58) – August 13, 2002


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Before Natalie Coughlin claimed back-to-back Olympic titles in the 100 backstroke, she etched her name in history at the 2002 United States National Championships in Fort Lauderdale. Completing a feat that was long anticipated, Coughlin became the first woman to break the minute barrier in the 100 back and did so in emphatic fashion, as she sliced .58 off the previous world record of China’s He Cihong. Coughlin followed that iconic swim by winning gold in the 100 back at the 2004 Olympics and duplicated the feat at the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Libby Lenton: 100 Freestyle (52.99) – April 3, 2007

What Libby Lenton achieved in the 100 freestyle at the 2003 Duel in the Pool is not recognized by the sport’s record book. However, those with an appreciation for history view Lenton’s swim as a significant moment. Coming off a superb showing at the World Championships, Lenton became the first woman to break the 53-second threshold when she touched the wall in 52.99. However, the performance was not ratified as a world record because it arrived while racing against Michael Phelps in a mixed 400 freestyle relay, which was not an official event at the time.

Michael Phelps: 400 Individual Medley (4:03.84) – August 10, 2008

When Michael Phelps arrived at the 2008 Olympic Games, the hype surrounding his pursuit of eight gold medals was immeasurable. Every move made by the American was chronicled, and his first step toward the eventual completion of his goal was sensational. En route to repeating as the Olympic champion in the 400 I.M., Phelps obliterated the field and set a world record that has not been sniffed in the 12 years since it was registered. Simply, Phelps put together a four-stroke exhibition that will long be identified as the model of medley perfection.

United States: 400 Freestyle Relay (3:08.24) – August 11, 2008

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For eternity, Jason Lezak will be remembered as the guy who delivered one of the greatest relay legs in history, a split that preserved Michael Phelps’ chase of eight gold medals. As Lezak entered the water for his anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay at the 2008 Olympics, he trailed France’s Alain Bernard by a sizable margin, and remained behind heading into the last lap. But with every stroke over the last 50 meters, Lezak pulled closer to Bernard and ultimately clipped him by .08 at the wall. Lezak’s split of 46.06 is legendary and kept alive Phelps’ bid for history.

Paul Biedermann: 200 Freestyle (1:42.00) – July 29, 2009

How can we possibly include a performance from the charade that was the super-suit era? Well, when Paul Biedermann clocked 1:42-flat at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, it marked a tipping point in the sport. En route to that time, which remains the world record, Biedermann trounced Michael Phelps and confirmed that technology had replaced pure talent as a deciding factor in races.

In light of Biedermann’s effort, Phelps’ coach Bob Bowman stepped to the forefront and threatened to keep his pupil out of competition until FINA banned the suits and returned the sport to a battle of ability. Not surprising, FINA buckled to the pressure and eliminated tech suits at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign.

Rebecca Soni: 200 Breaststroke (2:19.59) – August 2, 2012

Photo Courtesy: Peter H.Bick

At the 2008 Olympics, Rebecca Soni secured her first Olympic title by upsetting Australia’s Leisel Jones in the 200 breaststroke. By the time she defended her crown in London four years later, Soni was the undisputed queen of the event and took the discipline to never-before-seen heights. In the final of the 200 breast at the 2012 Games, Soni became the first woman to break 2:20 in the event. Soni was more than a second clear of her opposition and her time would remain in contention for a medal in international competition during the current era.

Katie Ledecky: 800 Freestyle (8:14.63) – August 3, 2012

A glance at Katie Ledecky’s historical performances in the 800 freestyle prompts a head-shaking reaction, such is her dominance. But it was her effort at the London Olympics that launched her to international stardom. Racing against reigning Olympic champ Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain, Ledecky left no doubt she had assumed the distance-freestyle torch, as she bolted into the lead off the start and never looked back. More, Ledecky took down Janet Evans’ 22-year-old American record and set the foundation for a career unmatched in women’s swimming history.

Adam Peaty: 100 Breaststroke (56.88) – July 21, 2019

adam peaty - Swimming World

Adam Peaty – Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Barrier-breaking performances define careers, and Adam Peaty knows all about entering zones that have previously been unvisited. Already the only man to go sub-58 in the 100 breaststroke, the British star became the first man to crack the 57-second barrier – a once unimaginable feat. The achievement, pulled off at the 2019 World Championships, was the fulfillment of what Peaty and coach Mel Marshall titled, “Project 56.” At the time of that 56.88 outing, Peaty sat 1.41 seconds clear of the No. 2 performer in history, an unreal margin for a two-lap event.

1 comment

  1. avatar

    Kristof Milak’s 200 Fly from Gwangju 2019. 1:50.73

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