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.
Most people will take it as no surprise that we’ve deemed Phelps the best swimmer in the world. 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. He has also won the World Swimmer of the Year Award seven times, as well as the American Swimmer of the Year Award nine times.
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. Spitz was named World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972. He also set 33 world records.
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 at the 1984, 1988, and 1992 games. He is a member of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
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.
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. She earned four Olympic gold medals and one silver medal in 1988 and 1992.
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 and the highest in Australia, making him one of Australia’s most popular athletes.
Katie Ledecky is one of the most famous female swimmers of all time, after a record-breaking Olympic performance at only 15. During her debut, she became the first female athlete since 1968 to win the gold in three different events, the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle races. She has since broken 13 world records and won 20 medals (19 gold), including six Olympic medals. She was awarded the titles of World Swimmer of the Year and American Swimmer of the Year in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Torres is the only swimmer to represent the U.S. in five Olympics games. She is also 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 and has earned 12 Olympic medals, four of them gold.
Ryan Lochte has competed in numerous competitions and received 90 medals, 12 of which were during the Olympics, putting him second only to Michael Phelps in US Men’s Swimming. He is also the current world record holder in four different events. He has been awarded the American Swimmer of the Year Award and World Swimmer of the Year Award twice.
Weissmuller was an Austro-Hungarian-born American swimmer and actor. He was one of the world’s best swimmers in the 1920s and set 67 world records in his time. He earned five Olympic gold medals. He also played the role of Tarzan and his yell is still used in many Tarzan movies today.
Check out our other posts for more stories of the world’s most influential and accomplished swimmers.