The 10 Most Influential Swimmers of All Time

Narrowing down the list of the world’s most famous swimmers is a tough job, but there are a few stand-out swimmers who have undoubtedly made a huge impact on the industry. We’ve gathered a stellar list of athletes who’ve made innovations, grown the sport, blazed a path, and brought important changes to swimming over the years.


  1. Michael Phelps. Most people will take it as no surprise that we’ve deemed Phelps the top swimmer of all time. Phelps is known for breaking the all-time record for the most Olympic gold medals, with a total of 22 medals overall. Now considered the most famous Olympic swimmer of all time, Phelps is also the long course world record holder for the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter individual medley.
  2. Mark Spitz. Also known as Mark the Shark, Spitz is a retired American swimmer who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympic games. This achievement has only been surpassed by Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Spize was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972.
  3. Matt Biondi. Amazingly, Biondi did not start swimming year-round until he entered high school. By the end of high school, he had the national high school record in the 50-yard freestyle. He’s an 11-time Olympic medalist who is remembered for pushing the era of true professional swimming.
  4. Bob Bowman. The man behind the legend, Bowman coached Michael Phelps to his 22 Olympic medals. His impact on high-level swimmers is truly immeasurable. He has been named the greatest swimming coach of all time and created his own brand.
  5. Janet Evans. One of the most accomplished female distance swimmers of all time, Evans was setting national records by age 11. She broke world records in several freestyle categories and has shown the power of female athletes in the sport.
  6. Ian Thorpe. Nicknamed the Thorpedo, Thorpe is a retired Australian freestyle swimmer. He was the first person to win six gold medals in one world championship, and has won 11 world championship golds, which is the second-highest of any swimmer. He is one of Australia’s most popular athletes.
  7. Debbie Meyer. Meyer is a former American swimmer who won three swimming events in the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City, while still a high school student in Sacramento, California. She is famous for her young age of winning medals and becoming the first swimmer to win three gold medals in one Olympics.
  8. Dara Torres. Torres is the only swimmer to represent the U.S. in five Olympics games. She is one of the most famous female swimmers and has been named one of the “Top Female Athletes of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated. She has blazed the trail for many women in the swimming community.
  9. Fran Crippen. This long-distance swimmer had an amazing career but is also known for a tragic death that brought attention to the marathon swimming community. Crippen died during a race in The United Arab Emirates, where the temperature was 100 degrees and the water was 87 degrees. This changed regulations and brought greater safety for athletes in the sport.
  10. Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller was an Austro-Hungarian-born American swimmer and actor. He was one of the world’s best swimmers in the 1920’s and set 67 world records in his time. He also played the role of Tarzan and his yell is still used in many Tarzan movies.


Check out our other posts for more stories of the world’s most influential and accomplished swimmers.