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Best Swimmers of All Time

  • Michael Phelps won 23 gold medals in the Olympics
  • He broke the record of Mark Spitz of 7 gold in one Olympics
  • Ian Thorpe was the most successful Australian swimmer
best swimmers of all time

Swimming is one of the most popular sports in the Olympics, with great races and many superstars like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte who are known all over the world. But we can find many great athletes from earlier times as well, who won several medals and reached great times in an era when everything was a bit simpler. Let’s see the best swimmers of all time. 

The sport of swimming has improved a lot in the past few decades. The swimmers became faster thanks to new training methods, nutritional diets, and improved swimming suits. So it’s not easy to compare athletes from different eras, but we tried to collect swimmers who produced results that were outstanding in their times. 

In the best swimmers of all time, we find multi-talent Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps has a record number of gold medals from the Olympics, 23 in total. He won 8 gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics breaking the former record of Mark Spitz. But he was also performing successfully in other Games, from 2004 Athens to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Phelps was a multi-talent, being the best in several different swimming strokes from individual medley to freestyle and butterfly. He started his winning streak at a very young age. As he won his first gold in the 2001 World Championship at the age of only 15. Then there was no stop, in his next one in 2003 he won four gold and two silver medals. 

best swimmers of all time
Michael Pleps – Image via Flickr

Then came his second Olympic Games in 2004 Athens, where he collected six gold and two bronze medals. While he achieved his best result in Beijing. He wasn’t only winning the races but he set up a new world record almost every time, often only racing against himself. There hasn’t been anyone like him before or after him. He was even able to retire after 2012 and come back two years later to produce more wins and records. Phelps carried the American flag in the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics, where he got his last five gold medals at the age of 31. Online sportsbooks in the US are hoping for great results from today’s best American swimmers in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics

Great American swimmers of earlier eras

As we’ve already mentioned, another American swimmer, Mark Spitz also had great success in the Olympics. He won seven gold medals in the 1972 Munchen Olympics, all with a new world record. He also won two gold with the medleys in the previous Olympics in 1968 along with a silver and a bronze medal in 100m butterfly and freestyle. The Shark set up 33 world records and was voted as the Best Swimmer of the World in three different years.  Spitz retired after 1972, at the age of only 22. He tried to make a career as an actor in films and TV, with less success. But he was better in real estate and as a sports commentator working for ABC sports. 

Much before Spitz the US had another great swimmer with acting ambitions, Johnny Weismuller. He was the fastest swimmer in the 1920s, winning five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games. He set up an amazing 67 world records and was the first man to swim the 100m under one minute. And he also played water polo, winning a bronze medal in 1924, probably thanks to his Hungarian origin. Johnny became even more famous after his swimming career when he played Tarzan in 1932. He played in 12 Tarzan films during his acting career, earning more than $2 million. 

Top swimmers from other countries

We can find several great swimmers in other countries as well, like in Australia. One of the Aussie’s favorite athletes was Ian Thorpe, whose best event was freestyle. He won five gold in the Olympics and 11 gold medals in the World Championships between 1998 and 2004. Thorpedo is the most successful athlete in Australia in the Olympics and the youngest world champion. He was only 14 in 1998 when he won the 400m freestyle in Perth. Online gambling sites in the US are predicting great performances from Australian swimmers in the next Olympics in Tokyo as well.

Thorpe fought big battles with Dutch swimmer, Peter van den Hoogenband. The Flying Dutchman won three Olympic gold medals, beating Thorpe in the 200m final in 2000 and in the 100m in 2004. Strangely he couldn’t win any gold medals in the world championships, finishing second the most times without winning in the event’s history. But he is also the only swimmer who managed to beat Michael Phelps twice in the same Olympics. 

best swimmers of all time
Ian Thorpe – Image via Flickr

Russian swimmer Aleksandr Popov swam against both mentioned swimmers during his career. He was one of the best sprint freestyle swimmers of all time. He won the 50m and 100m freestyle in the 1992 Olympics and then in 1996 as well. Popov suffered a knife attack in 1996 but managed to come back and win the European Championship in the same strokes in the following year. He also got six gold medals from the World and 21 gold from the European Championships. 

Most recent champions

We might count American Ryan Lochte in the best swimmers of all time, as he also had 12 Olympic medals, including 6 gold.  Only Phelps had more in the US Swimming’s Team. True though that he could only win two individual gold. One in 2008 Beijing and one in the 2012 London Olympics, which was his best so far. Lochte got into some scandals in the last few years like his robbery story in Rio and the doping accusation in 2018. But he is planning to compete in Tokyo as well, which would be his fifth one. 

A much younger American talent is Caeleb Dressel. He is only 23, but already a two-time Olympic champion and the world record holder in 100m butterfly. He won seven gold medals in the 2017 World Championship Budapest and eight medals including six gold last year in 2019 in Gwangju. Dressel is one of the favorites in several events, bets for swimming races should be available on Unibet before the Olympics. 

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