The Greatest Swimmer at the Olympic Games
Who is the greatest swimmer of all time based on Olympic Games performances? We have used a weighted total medal count of each male and female swimmer from all modern Olympic Games to rank their overall performance, using data from all Olympics including the Tokyo 2020 Games.
The best all-time overall performance in swimming at the Olympic Games is by USA swimmer Michael Phelps. His haul of 23 gold medals between 2004–2016 is the most out of all sports. The highest ranked female swimmer is Jenny Thompson, also from the US, with 12 medals including 8 gold. See the table below to see how other athletes ranked.
Top Olympic Athletes From Swimming
Here are the top ranked athletes from the sport of swimming for performances at all Olympiads (including 2021), based on medals won using the Topend Sports Weighted Ranking System to order the athletes, awarding points for both gold (6 points) and other medals (silver 2 pts, bronze 1 pt). This list only includes swimmers who have won at least four gold medals.
Table: The Top Ranked Athletes from Swimming at the Olympic Games (including 2021)
|2||Mark Spitz||United States||M||9||1||1||11||57|
|3||Jenny Thompson||United States||F||8||3||1||12||55|
|4||Matt Biondi||United States||M||8||2||1||11||53|
|5||Katie Ledecky||United States||F||7||3||0||10||48|
|6||Ryan Lochte||United States||M||6||3||3||12||45|
|7||Caeleb Dressel||United States||M||7||0||0||7||42|
|8||Gary Hall, Jr.||United States||M||5||3||2||10||38|
|11||Kristin Otto||East Germany||F||6||0||0||6||36|
|Amy Van Dyken||United States||F||6||0||0||6||36|
|Dara Torres||United States||F||4||4||4||12||36|
|14||Aaron Peirsol||United States||M||5||2||0||7||34|
|Nathan Adrian||United States||M||5||1||2||8||34|
|Alexander Popov||Unified Team, Russia, USA||M||4||5||0||9||34|
|Tom Jager||United States||M||5||1||1||7||33|
|Dana Vollmer||United States||F||5||1||1||7||33|
|Allison Schmitt||United States||F||4||3||3||10||33|
|21||Don Schollander||United States||M||5||1||0||6||32|
|Kornelia Ender||East Germany||F||4||4||0||8||32|
|24||Missy Franklin||United States||F||5||0||1||6||31|
|25||Johnny Weissmuller||United States||M||5||0||0||5||30|
|Inge de Bruijn||Netherlands||F||4||2||2||8||30|
|Jason Lezak||United States||M||4||2||2||8||30|
|Roland Matthes||East Germany||M||4||2||2||8||30|
|30||Matt Grevers||United States||M||4||2||0||6||28|
|Charles Daniels||United States||M||4||1||2||7||28|
|Ryan Murphy||United States||M||4||1||1||6||27|
|36||Janet Evans||United States||F||4||1||0||5||26|
|John Naber||United States||M||4||1||0||5||26|
|39||Jon Olsen||United States||M||4||0||1||5||25|
|Lenny Krayzelburg||United States||M||4||0||0||4||24|
|Vladimir Salnikov||Soviet Union||M||4||0||0||4||24|
- List of the best athlete from each Olympic sport
- The greatest ever Olympic athlete
- About Olympic Medal Ranking Systems
- medal tables from all Olympic Games
Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- Trada (2014)
Sorry: Mark Spitz is the greatest by far at the moment. 7 Gold Medals, same Olympics, with 7 world records in five days: Michael Phelps has yet to better that 'mark'.
- Jack Trada (2014)
What do you mean? Phelps won 8 golds with 7 world records and an Olympic record. And at at any rate, in terms of points or value to a team, the only way any combination of 7 medals trumps 8 medals is if the 8 are composed of, I think, 7 bronze and a silver or worse. It is arguable that Phelps' 2004 6 golds and 2 bronze bested Spitz in '72, his 2007 world champs which included 7 golds and 5 world records equaled Spitz, and his 2008 olympic performance blew Spitz out of the water.
- And anyway, Spitz won 7 in an era without semi-finals, so his body only took 2/3 or less of the stress the Phelps went through. Additionally, Spitz did not compete with anyone who would likely make it into the top 10, or possibly even the top 15 or 20, of all time. Phelps had to compete against Ryan Lochte, Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett, Lazlo Cseh, Ous Mellouli, and Peter Van der Hoogdenban. Phelps, Lochte, Thorpe, and Biondi would all likely have won 7 or more golds in the '72 games. It's unlikely anyone but Phelps could have even approached 8 medals in '04 or '08 with many of the all-time greats in the same events.
- Tasneem (2014)
Michael Phelps is my favorite swimmer. Michael phelps is always the best.
- Tom Bryant tasneem (2019)
Michael Philips is awesome!
- Ghazal (2014)
Missy franklin is always the best
- Why isn't Dawn Fraser all the way up there with Michael Phelps! She was one of the best swimmers of all time! (from Mitchell, Dec 2012)
- I also find this highly inaccurate. in this relays and individual events are weighted equally, which is bs. jenny thompson has 12 medals, 10 of which were from relays. she does not belong ahead of natalie coughlin, who has 5 individual medals. IMO relay medals should only count if the swimmer had a comeback or exceptional split, like ian thorpe in 2000 or jason lezak in 2008 also world record need to be accounted for. gary hall was very good and won many Olympic medals in the 50 free, but was nowhere as good as popov, who dominated his opponents and won 4 individual medals, but couldn't get the relay gold medals because russia is not as good as the US having relays in the mix is like determining the best basketball player by titles + championships. how many bulls players would have 4, 5 or 6 while all stars like allen iverson (for all his flaws) would have 2 or 3 (from Roberto, Oct 2012)
- Your ranking is mathematic and inaccurate, because it does not take account of so many factors. You cannot only count the number of medals to decide who was the best swimmer. Example: Do you know how many medals Michael Phelps shoud have brought from the 1924 Olympic Games, counting only the events he won in 2008? The answer is: 1 (the 800m relay). All the others events did not exist in 1924: no 200m freestyle, no butterfly, no indidividual medley or medley relay. To decide who was the best, you have to measure is domination at the Olympics, and length of the career. The most dominating swimmers were Johnny Weissmuller in 1924 and 1928, Murray Rose in 1956 and 1960, Don Schollander in 1964, Ian Thorpe in 2004, Michael Phelps in 2008. For women, you cannot put all the relays medals of Dara Torres under the same perspective as the three 100 meters victories of Egerszegi and Fraser or the multi individual medals performances of Shane Gould at the Munich Olympics. (from Eric Lahmy, June 2012)