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Top 10 Best Swimmers of All Time

10. Caeleb Dressel

Caeleb Dressel is an American professional swimmer who is renowned for his exceptional skills in freestyle, butterfly, and individual medley events. He has represented the United States in various international competitions, including the Olympics, where he won seven gold medals.
He also won 13 World Championship titles (LCM), 6 World Championship Titles (SCM), 2 Pan Pacific Championship Titles, 11 US National Championship Titles, and 10 US NCAA titles. He holds world records in the 100 meter butterfly (long course and short course), 50 meter freestyle (short course), and 100 meter individual medley (short course).
He set two world records in the 100-meter butterfly and 4×100-meter medley, and created two new short-course world records in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly at the ISL finals. He won a record seven gold medals at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, becoming the first man ever to get three golds in one night.
He won nine medals, six of which were gold, at the 2018 World Swimming Championships in Hangzhou, and eight medals, including six gold, at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju. He won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, making him the sixth American male to accomplish the feat.
He is tipped as Michael Phelps’ successor and is set to create his own legacy. He has used his stage to quietly amass an impressive legacy with his medal count. He shows the ability to recover fast between races and go again.

9. Ryan Lochte

Ryan Lochte was an American swimmer who was one of the sport’s most successful Olympians. He won 12 Olympic medals, 6 of which were gold, making him the second most-decorated male swimmer in Olympic history, behind teammate Michael Phelps.
He also represented the United States in various international competitions, including the Olympics, and won seven NCAA swimming titles, including three individual titles in 2006.
He holds the world records in the 200-meter individual medley (long and short course), and set world marks in the 100-meter backstroke, the 200-meter backstroke, and the 200-meter IM at the 2006 FINA short-course world championships. He set his first long-course world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the FINA world championships in 2007.
He won seven individual Olympic medals, ranking second in history in men’s swimming. He won a gold medal in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, setting a new global standard of 1 minute 53.94 seconds.
He won six gold medals to Phelps’s five at the 2010 Pan Pacific championships, and five gold medals at the 2011 FINA world swimming championships.
He had a nearly peerless legacy in the pool, and was generous to his young fans, giving away some of his medals and signing autographs. However, his legacy was tarnished by an incident during the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he lied about a robbery, leading to severe repercussions, including a 10-month suspension and loss of privileges.

8. Aleksandr Popov

Aleksandr Popov, also known as “The Russian Rocket”, is a legendary sprint freestyle swimmer who competed in three consecutive Olympic Games and set seven World Records.
He won nine Olympic medals, four of which were gold, six World Championship titles, and 21 European Championship titles between 1991-2004. He set seven World Records in the 50m and 100m freestyle for both long course and short course, and broke his own World Record in the 100m freestyle (25m) four times.
He was named the European Swimmer of the Year in 1994 and 2003, and became a member of the IOC and FINA’s Vice Chairman of the Athletes Commission.
He dominated the 50m and 100m freestyle events and became the world’s premier sprinter in the 1990s. He won four individual gold medals at three Olympic Games from 1992-2000, and became the first Olympic swimmer since Johnny Weissmuller to win back-to-back sprint races, doing so in 1992 and 1996. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest swimmers in history.

7. Kristin Otto

Kristin Otto is a former German Olympic swimming champion who was the first woman to win six gold medals at a single Olympic Games.
She won six gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, where she also set Olympic records in the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly.
She held the world records in the freestyle events and was the first woman to swim the 100 meter backstroke in under a minute. She participated in her first world championships at sixteen, winning the gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke and two more gold medals in the 4×100m relays with the East German team.
She set a world record in the 200 meter freestyle in 1984. She was named the Female World Swimmer of the Year in 1984, 1986, and 1988, and was awarded a Star of People’s Friendship in gold (second class) for her sporting success in 1986.
Her career was tarnished by the revelations of doping by East German athletes, but she claimed that she was unaware of it and passed all the doping tests, saying: “The medals are the only reminder of how hard I worked. It was not all drugs.” She currently works as a sports reporter for German television.

6. Matt Biondi

Matt Biondi, also known as “The California Condor”, is an American former competitive swimmer and water polo player who won eleven Olympic medals, including eight gold, and set five world records.
He competed in the Summer Olympic Games in 1984, 1988, and 1992, and won six gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
He also won eleven medals, six of which were gold, at the World Championships. He set three individual world records in the 50-meter freestyle and four in the 100-meter freestyle, and was the first man to complete the 100 freestyle in under 49 seconds.
He was named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year three times, the U.S. Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Year twice, and the Male Swimmer of the World twice by Swimming World magazine. He is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.
He is one of the most decorated U.S. Olympians in history, earning 11 Olympic medals and setting 12 individual swimming world records throughout his career.
After retiring from swimming, he became a high school teacher and swim coach. He also served as a spokesperson for various organizations, such as the Special Olympics, the National Dairy Council, and Sports Illustrated for Kids, to promote good nutrition and positive influence for children.

5. Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller, also known as “The Flying Fish of Windber”, was a legendary swimmer of the 20th century who competed in the Summer Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928, winning five gold medals and one bronze medal. He won the 100m freestyle and the 4 × 200 m relay team event in both Olympics, and also won gold in the 400m freestyle and bronze in the water polo competition in Paris.
He set 67 world records in distances from 50 yards to 880 yards, and was the first man to swim the 100-meter freestyle under one minute and the 440-yard freestyle under five minutes. His 1927 world record for the 100 yard freestyle was unbeaten for 17 years.
He won 52 National Championships in all, and his record of 38 individual US National Championships stood for nearly six decades. He was the first swimmer ever to break the minute mark for the 100-meter freestyle and the first to break 5 minutes for the 440-yard freestyle; both of these were huge milestones.
He is best known for his motion-picture role as Tarzan of the Apes, a character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He starred in 12 Tarzan films between 1932 and 1948. He later created the role of Jungle Jim, a guide, for both television and motion pictures.
He had exceptional skills, leadership, and contributions to swimming, and his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players continues to inspire many budding swimmers even today.

4. Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky, also known as “The Flying Fish of Bethesda”, is an American competitive swimmer who has made significant contributions to the sport. She has won seven Olympic gold medals and 21 world championship gold medals, the most in history for a female swimmer.
She has also won a world record 16 individual gold medals at the World Aquatics Championships. Her six individual gold medals at the Olympics and 26 overall medals at the World Aquatics Championships are records in women’s swimming.
She holds the world records in the women’s 800- and 1500-meter freestyle (both long course and short course) and the former world record in the women’s 400-meter freestyle (long course). She has the fastest-ever times in the women’s 500-, 1000-, and 1650-yard freestyle events.
She shattered the world record in the 1500m freestyle by 10 seconds at the 2022 World Championships, clocking 15:08.24. She has been named the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year twice and has won the most Female Athlete of the Year awards at the Golden Goggle Awards.
She is the most decorated female swimmer in history with six individual Olympic gold medals and 14 individual long course world titles. She is widely regarded as the greatest female swimmer of all time and one of the greatest Olympians of all time. She is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

3. Ian Thorpe

Ian Thorpe, also known as “The Thorpedo”, is an Australian retired swimmer who specialized in freestyle but also competed in backstroke and the individual medley.
He won five Olympic gold medals, the most by any Australian along with fellow swimmer Emma McKeon, and 11 world championship titles between 1998 and 2004.
He won the event at every Olympic, World, Commonwealth, and Pan Pacific Swimming Championships until his break after the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
He set 23 world records, making him one of Australia’s most successful athletes. He was the youngest-ever individual male World Champion at the age of 14, and the youngest-ever winner of the 400-meter freestyle at the 1998 Perth World Championships.
He was named Young Australian of the Year in 2000, and was awarded the Australian Sports Medal as “Commonwealth Games Pan Pacific World Record Holder”.
He became the first person to win six gold medals in one World Championship at the 2001 World Aquatics Championships. He was the most successful athlete at the 2000 Summer Olympics, held in his hometown of Sydney. He is the most successful swimmer in Australia’s history.

2. Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz, also known as “Mark the Shark”, was an American former competitive swimmer and nine-time Olympic champion. He competed in the Summer Olympic Games in 1968 and 1972, winning nine gold medals, a silver, and a bronze. He won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, setting world records in all seven events.
He also won five Pan American golds, 31 AAU titles, and eight NCAA titles. He set 35 world records in his career, two of which were unofficial.
He was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972, and was the third athlete to win nine Olympic gold medals. His record for most gold medals at a single Olympics stood for 36 years, until it was broken by American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight golds at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He was among the first group to be inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.
He was the most successful competitor at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and one of the greatest swimmers in history.

1. Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps is a former American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 Olympic medals, including 23 gold medals, more than double the count of his nearest rivals.
He set world records in several events, such as the 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 200m and 400m individual medley, and 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
He set 39 world records in his career, and was the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Olympics during the 2008 Games in Beijing. He received numerous awards and honors, such as being named the most-decorated athlete in Olympic history and World Swimmer of the Year seven times.
He was the first American male swimmer to qualify for five Olympic teams in 2016, and the youngest male ever to set a world record in swimming. He set a world record in the 200m butterfly at the 2001 World Aquatic Championships at just 15 years and 9 months old, and his record in the 400m individual medley at the 2008 Beijing Olympics still stands. He had an unparalleled legacy in the sport of swimming, and was widely regarded as THE greatest and most dominant swimmer in history.

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