Top 12 Best Swimmers of All Time

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Swimming is one of the most exciting sports in the world. Some superstars have revolutionized the sport with their performance in the swimming field over the years. In this article, we have listed the top 12 swimmers of all time.

Similarly, we will also be discussing the brief introduction and glorious moments for these top 12 swimmers. So, keep reading till the end.

Michael Phelps.
Michael Phelps.

Check out, whether your favorite swimmer falls under the list or not. So let’s continue to look at the 12 most excellent swimmers in the history of this sport.

Top 12 Best Swimmers of All Time

Here is the list of the Top 12 Best Swimmers of all time, and check out if your favorite swimmers fall under this list.

  Swimmers  Countries (Originally)
1. Michael Phelps USA
2. Mark Spitz USA
3. Matt Biondi USA
4. Ian Thorpe Australia
5. Dara Torres USA
6. Natalie Coughlin USA
7. Janet Evans USA
8. Ryan Lochte USA
9. Kristi Otto Germany
10. Johnny Weissmuller Romania
11. Fanny Durack Australia
12. Simone Manuel USA

1. Michael Phelps

  • Date of Birth: June 30, 1985, (Age: 39 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Butterfly, Freestyle, Individual Medley, Back Stroke
  • Coach: Bow Bowman
  • Amazon Merch: Book, Goggles, Swim Snorkel

Michael Phelps is known as the “goat” of swimming. He is a former American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian in history.

Phelps has a record of 23 Olympic gold medals. He won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, breaking the form of 7 gold medals set by Mark Spitz in a single Olympic Game in 1972.

His international championship title and world record performance have earned him the World Swimmer of the Year Award six times and The American Swimmer of the Year Award eight times.

Moreover, Phelps is the men’s 400-meter medley long-distance world record holder, the first 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, and 200-meter individual medley long-distance world record, holder. 

2. Mark Spitz

  • Date of Birth: February 10, 1950, (Age: 74 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Butterfly, Freestyle
  • Coach: George Haines
  • Amazon Merch: Paperback

World Magazine selected Mark Spitz as the World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972.

Till now, Spitz has won a total of seven gold medals, which is also a world record time. Since then, there has been no tie-in record.

Spitz was undefeated and won a total of nine Olympic gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. In those years, he set 33 swimming world records, which is impressive. Also, he is one of only five Olympians to win 9 or more gold medals at the Olympics.

3. Matt Biondi

The third swimmer on our list is Matt Biondi, a former American swimming champion, 11th Olympic medalist, and a former world record holder in five different sports.

Matt Biondi participated in 1984, 1988, and 1992 Summer Olympics and won 11 medals (8 gold medals, 2 silver medals, and 1 bronze medal).

In addition, he has set personal world records of 3 in the 50-meter freestyle and 4 in the 100-meter freestyle during his career.

Matt- Binodi
Matt Biondi at the pool.

At the 1988 Olympics, Biondi unleashed a storm in Seoul. He bagged 5 gold medals in the 50-meter freestyle and 3 relay events and set a world record.

Further, Biondi was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.  Additionally, Matt won 11 Olympic medals, including three different versions (8 gold medals, 2 silver medals, and 1 bronze medal).

4. Ian Thorpe

  • Date of Birth: October 13, 1982, (Age: Years Old)
  • Strokes: Freestyle
  • Coach: Doug Frost (1995-2002), Tracey Menzies (2002-2006)
  • Amazon Merch: Paperback

Ian Thorpe is a retired Australian swimmer and one of Australia’s most famous athletes.

Thorpe has won five Olympic gold medals and is the first swimmer to win six gold medals in selected world championships, which is by far the most gold medals an Australian has ever won.

In addition, his victory in the 400m freestyle at the 1998 Perth World Championships earned him the youngest men’s individual world championship in history.

Furthermore, from 1999 to 2003, he was the first person to be named the World’s Best Swimmer of the Year and Australia’s Best Swimmer of the Year four times.

His achievements and performance in the Olympics have made him one of Australia’s most popular athletes. It is not wrong to say that Ian Thorpe is one of the best swimmers in Olympic history.

5. Dara Torres

  • Date of Birth: April 15, 1950, (Age: 74 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Butterfly, Freestyle
  • Coach: Richard Quick
  • Amazon Merch: Stretching DVD Part 1 and 2

Dara Torres is a former American swimmer. Torres was named one of the “Best Female Athletes in Ten Years” by Sports Illustrated.

Torres is a 12-time Olympic medalist and has maintained world records in three events during her career. Likewise, Torres was the first swimmer to play for the United States at the five Olympic Games in 1984, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2008.

The twelve times Olympian, Torres also represented the United States in the Olympic Games at the age of 41 and became the oldest swimmer. Torres won silver medals in all the events she participated in (50m freestyle, 4x100m medley relay, and 4x100m freestyle relay).

6. Natalie Coughlin

  • Date of Birth: August 23, 1982, (Age: 41 Years Old )
  • Strokes: Butterfly, Freestyle, Back Stroke, Individual Medley
  • Coach: Ray Mitchell
  • Amazon Merch: Book

Natalie Coughlin (Natalie Coughlin) is an American swimmer and twelfth Olympic medalist.

Coughlin’s performance over the years has helped her win the World Swimmer of the Year award once in her career and the American Swimmer of the Year award three times.

In less than a minute, Natalie became the first woman to complete the 100-meter stroke (long run). 

Natalie Coughlin with a wide smile on her face.
Natalie Coughlin with a broad smile on her face.

She achieved this goal at the 2008 Summer Olympics and became the first woman to win the 100-meter backstroke gold medal in two consecutive Olympics. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, she won the bronze medal in the 4×100m freestyle relay.

Altogether, this American swimmer has won 60 medals in major international competitions at the Olympic Games, World Games, and Pan American Games, including 25 gold medals, 22 silver medals, and 13 bronze medals.

7. Janet Evans

  • Date of Birth: August 28 1971, (Age: 52 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Medley, Freestyle
  • Coach: Bud McAllister
  • Amazon Merch: Paperback

Janet Beth Evans (Janet Beth Evans) is an American swimmer who has participated in long-distance freestyle.

Evans is one of the best swimmers, world champions, and world record holders. In addition, she is the first swimmer to win a consecutive Olympic gold medal at any event. This American swimmer won a total of four gold medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.

It all started in 1987 when she broke world records for freestyle distances of 400 meters, 800 meters, and 1500 meters. The next year, at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, she won three individual gold medals.

In Seoul, Janet won the 400-meter medley and 800 million freestyle gold medals, successfully defending her title four years later in Barcelona.

By the end of Evans’ swimming career, he held a total of seven world records, five Olympic medals, and 45 US National Championships.

8. Ryan Lochte

  • Date of Birth: August 03, 1984, (Age: 39 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Back Stroke, Medley, Freestyle
  • Coach: Gregg Troy

Ryan Lochte is an American swimmer and twelfth Olympic medalist. He is the second swimmer to win a medal in Olympic history after the great Michael Phelps.

Lochte is also the current world record holder for the individual 100, 200, and 400-meter medley.

Ryan currently holds the world record for individual medley 200 meters (long and short). As a member of Team USA, he also holds the world record for 4×200m freestyle (long field), and 4×100m freestyle (mixed) relays.

Apart from these, Lochte’s outstanding performance earned him the 2013 Swim Swam American Male Swimmer of the Year Award, the World Swimmer of the Year Award, and two American Swimmer of the Year Awards.

His seven individual Olympic medals helped him rank second in men’s swimming history.
Lochte collected 12 Olympic medals, including 6 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 3 bronze medals.                                 

9. Kristin Otto

  • Date of Birth: February 07, 1966, (Age: 58 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Butterfly, Freestyle, Back Stroke
  • Coach: Changed Frequently

Kristin Otto (Kristin Otto) is the German swimmer of her time. Kristin is one of the most dominant swimmers and one of the first women to win six gold medals in the Olympics.

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Otto won 4 gold medals and 2 silver medals in the 100m freestyle, 200m individual medley, 4×100m medley relay, and 4×100m freestyle at the 1986 Madrid World Championships (50 meters). 


Kristin Otto
Kristin Otto enjoying ( source:

Further, her dominance continued at the 1987 European Championship, where she won 5 gold medals. In 1984, 1986, and 1988, she was selected as the World Female Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine.

Then, in 1989, Otto set new world records in major events such as the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m backstrokes, and 100m butterfly.

10. Johnny Weissmuller

  • Date of Birth: June 02, 1904
  • Date of Death: January 20, 1984 
  • Strokes: Front Crawl
  • Coach: Bill Bachrach

Johnny Weissmuller was the best American swimmer of his time. Sadly, Weissmuller passed away at the age of 80.

Weissmuller holds many world records, including winning five gold medals at the Olympics. He completed the 100m freestyle, and 4x200m team relay event in 1924 at the Paris Olympics, then again in 1928 at the Amsterdam Olympics.

Weissmuller has won a total of five Olympic gold medals and one bronze. He also won 52 US National Championships and set 67 world records.

In addition to his swimming career, he is also a dominant name as an actor. He portrayed an iconic Tarzan character in the movie.

11. Fanny Durack

  • Date of Birth: October 27, 1884
  • Date Of Death: March 20, 1956
  • Strokes: Breaststroke
  • Coach: Unknown

Fannie Dulac is a true swimmer and the first-ever female Olympic champion.

At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, Fanny won the gold medal and set a new world record for the 100-meter freestyle-an impressive 1:19.8., representing Australasia, a combination of athletes from Australia and New Zealand.

However, his road to the Olympics was not easy. Despite her amazing talent, Fanny’s swimming club initially refused to let her participate in the 1912 Olympics. However, they eventually changed their attitude and let Fanny leave, as long as she paid for it herself.

Fanny’s career surpassed the competition in 1912. From 1910 to 1918, Dulac held all records for women’s swimming, from the 100-meter freestyle to the one-mile. This is unheard of today!

12. Simone Manuel

  • Date of Birth: August 02, 1996, (Age: 27 Years Old)
  • Strokes: Freestyle
  • Coach: Greg Meehan Sprinter
  • Amazon Merch: Paperback

Simone Manuel is the first African-American female swimmer to have won an Olympic medal as an individual.

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Simone and 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak took first place in the 100-meter freestyle. She set a new Olympic record with 52.70.

Simone Manuel
Simone Manuel

Moreover, she also won gold in the 4x100m medley relay and silver in the 4x100m free relay. Simone understands the importance of this milestone and does not take her role model lightly.

Thus she uses his platform to educate people about the history of racial injustice in America, both inside and outside the pool.


Swimming is introducing new swimmers’ faces every year, setting new milestones to achieve. We complete the list of the Top 12 best swimmers of all time here.

Did we miss anyone of the ‘Top Swimmers?’ If yes, then please mention them in the comment section below.

Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah
Sanjib Sah is an engineer and content writer passionate about sports and athletics. With a background in engineering and a love for all things active, Sanjib brings a unique perspective to the world of sports writing. Whether he is covering the latest trends in sports technology or sharing tips on improving your game, Sanjib's words are always rooted in a deep appreciation for players' hard work and dedication everywhere. In his free time, you can find him hitting the courts or hitting the trails, always looking for new ways to challenge himself and improve his skills.

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