Note: This is a list from 2012 and is focused more on freestyle swimmers and multiple Olympic champions. I do not plan to update it.

1. Mark Spitz, born 1950

Mark Andrew Spitz (nicknamed Mark The Shark) is a retired American swimmer. He won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, an achievement surpassed only by Michael Phelps who won eight golds at the 2008 Olympics. Between 1968 and 1972, Spitz won nine Olympic golds plus a silver and a bronze, five Pan American golds, 31 US Amateur Athletic Union titles and eight US National Collegiate Athletic Association titles. During those years, he set 33 world records. He was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971 and 1972.

2. Michael Phelps, born 1985

Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American competition swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double the second highest record holders), Olympic gold medals in individual events (11), and Olympic medals in individual events for a male (13). In winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps took the record for the most first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games. Five of those victories were in individual events, tying the single Games record. In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals, making him the most successful athlete of the Games for the third Olympics in a row.

Phelps is the long course world recordholder in the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter individual medley as well as the former long course world recordholder in the 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley. He has won a total of 77 medals in major international long-course competition, totalling 61 gold, 13 silver, and 3 bronze spanning the Olympics, the World, and the Pan Pacific Championships.

3. Ian Thorpe, born 1982

Ian James Thorpe (nicknamed the Thorpedo and Thorpey) is a retired Australian freestyle swimmer. He has won five Olympic gold medals, the most won by any Australian, and, at the 2001 World Aquatics Championships, he became the first person to win six gold medals in one World Championship. In total, Thorpe has won eleven World Championship golds, the second-highest number of any swimmer. Thorpe was the first person to have been named Swimming World Swimmers of the Year four times, and was the Australian swimmer of the year from 1999 to 2003. His athletic achievements made him one of Australia’s most popular athletes, and he was recognised as the Young Australian of the Year in 2000.

4. Aleksandr Popov, born 1971

Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov is a Russian former Olympic gold-winning swimmer, widely regarded as one of the greatest sprint freestyle swimmers of all time.

5. Pieter van den Hoogenband, born 1978

Pieter Cornelis Ruud Martijn van den Hoogenband (nicknamed The Flying Dutchman and Hoogie) is a Dutch former swimmer and a triple Olympic champion.

6. Johnny Weissmuller, born 1904 – died 1984

Johann Peter Weißmüller was an Austro-Hungarian-born American swimmer and actor. Weissmuller was one of the world’s best swimmers in the 1920s, winning five Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal. He won fifty-two US National Championships and set sixty-seven world records. After his swimming career, he became the sixth actor to portray Tarzan in films, a role he played in twelve motion pictures. Dozens of other actors have also played Tarzan, but Weissmuller is by far the best known. His character’s distinctive, ululating Tarzan yell is still often used in films.

7. Grant Hackett, born 1980

Grant Hackett is an Australian former swimmer most famous for winning the men’s 1500 metres freestyle race at both the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. This achievement has led him to be regarded as one of the greatest distance swimmers in history. He also collected a gold medal in Sydney for swimming in the heats of the 4×200 m freestyle relay. He is well regarded for his versatility, being the world record holder in the 1500 m and formerly in the 800 m freestyle, and 2nd and 4th in the 400 m and 200 m freestyle respectively. He has dominated the 1500 m event in the past decade, being undefeated in the event in finals from 1996 until the 2007 World Aquatics Championships. His four World Championship gold medals in the event make him the only swimmer to have won a world title in one event four times, and in total, he has won 10 World Championship gold medals.

8. Krisztina Egerszegi, born 1974

Krisztina Egerszegi is a Hungarian former world record holding swimmer and one of the greatest Hungarian Olympic champions of the modern era. She is a three time Olympian (1988, 1992 and 1996) and five time Olympic champion; and one of two individuals to have ever won the same swimming event at 3 consecutive Summer Olympics.

9. Debbie Meyer, born 1952

Deborah Elizabeth Meyer is a former American swimmer who won the 200, 400, and 800 m swimming events at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. While still a 16-year old student at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento, California, she became the first swimmer to win three individual gold medals in one Olympics.

10. Kristin Otto, born 1966

Kristin Otto is a German Olympic swimming champion. She is most famous for being the first woman to win six gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic games.


Matt Biondi, born 1965

Matthew Nicholas Biondi competed in the Summer Olympic Games in 1984, 1988 and 1992, winning a total of eleven medals (eight gold, two silver and one bronze). During his career, he set seven individual world records (three in the 50-meter freestyle and four in the 100-meter freestyle). At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Biondi won five gold medals, setting world records in the 50-meter freestyle and three relay events.


Ian Murray Rose, born 1939 – died 2012

Iain Murray Rose was an Australian swimmer, actor, sports commentator and marketing executive. He was a six-time Olympic medalist (four gold, one silver, one bronze), and at one time held the world records in the 400-metre, 800-metre, and 1500-metre freestyle (long course). He made his Olympic debut at the 1956 Summer Olympics as a 17-year-old and won three Olympic medals, all gold. Four years later, as a 21-year-old, he won three Olympic medals (one gold, one silver, one bronze) at the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Source: Wikipedia

Note: Thank you for your suggestions, they are welcome and will be included in the “Special mentions” category below.

Special mentions:

Vladimir Salnikov

Ryan Lochte

Aaron Peirsol

Kosuke Kitajima

Tamas Darnyi

Michael Gross

28 responses »

  1. how do you forget matt biondi, who was only the first guy to win 7 medals at worlds (and the first person to win 7 medals at an international competition twice)??

  2. Phelps has surpassed Spitz’s glory in swimming. While Spitz had great achievements, Phelps has bested them in a much more competitive era of swimming.

    • Nonsense, every era is relative to those athletes in your era. Compare Spitzs’ wins to Phelps and you will see how much better he was than the second finisher. In other words had Spitz had the ability to compete in as many events as Phelps was able to the medal count in the Olympics would be less one sided.

      • Totally true. And more, if Mark Spitz could have swum as a professionnal like Phelps could, he just could have the same lenght of career. And during the preparation of the 1972 Olympic games, he succeed to beat Mike Stamm in backstroke.

      • Phelps has more WR than Spitz you fool, Phelps has always been faster and better at more events than Spitz.
        What you fail to comprehend is that Phelps records are even more impressive considering he beat specialists who were much better than the bums Spitz went up against.
        If Phelps was born in 1950 and competed against Spitz he would have destroyed him by greater lengths than Spitz beat his competition. Phelps is without a doubt the GOAT swimmer

      • but Spitz didnt swim as long as Phelps , whoever wrote this is nuts , Phelps is the most dominate swimmer ever , and if Spitz was as good or better then Phelps , he would have more medals , with both swimming in thier own era is great , but again right now in history , Phelps has to go down as the best

  3. I’m staggered that Dawn Fraser (Australia) has been left out! The first swimmer in history that has won gold in the same event in 3 consecutive olympics.

    • I couldn’t agree more about Dawn Fraser. Had she been permitted by the Australian Swimming Association to compete, Dawn would probably have won a fourth straight gold medal in the 100m free at Mexico City in 1968. (Only Michael Phelps has won the same event in four consecutive Olympic Games–and that is in the 200m individual medley.) Dawn held the world record in the 100m free for nearly 15 straight years (1956-1971), much longer than anyone else in history (male or female) except Willy den Ouden whose record Dawn first broke in 1956 and who competed in a very different era (1930s). In addition, Dawn was 27 years old when she won her third straight Olympic gold in Tokyo in 1964–a decade beyond retirement age for many female (and also male) swimmers in those pre-professional and Title IX days.

  4. Why is Pieter van den Hoogenband in the Top 10. Here Vladimir Salnikov or Ryan Lochte would be appropriate.
    And freestyle is not the only discipilne. What about Aaron Peirsol, Kosuke Kitajima, Tamas Darnyi or Michael Gross.
    Absolutely inexplicable!

  5. No John ? First to break 2:00 minutes in the backstroke. 4golds and one silver. It’s a joke that he doesn’t have at least an honorable mention.

  6. The old gotta put an old school guy over the obvious number one to try and look wise about swimming cliche. Haha whatever man. Go Spitz.

  7. This evaluation was crazy before Olympics in 2016, and after latest olympics, it is ever crazier. Michael Phelps is way better than Mark Spitx who only had one great olympics, Phelps has had four. Mark ahd one good on and one bad one, in which all other Swimmers on team didn’t even like him and rooted against him. Phelps is number one by a mile! Ledecky is also up there.

  8. If Mark Spitz could have been a professional like Phelps, he could have swum perhaps after 30. But as an amateur, he could not go after 22. At 22, he had 10 medals, and nobody knows what he could have done if the rules had changed before. They changed after 1984. Spitz did not swim against “bums”. He swam against very good swimmers, but in 1972 his superiority made them look like bums (if you want to use this term). Now, nobody knows if Spitz could have done as well in 1976 than in 1972, and in 1980, the american boycott of the Moscow games should have prevented him to win more medals. You can imagine what you want…

  9. Pingback: History's Greatest Swimmers | Total Soft Water

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