15 Best Olympic Swimmers of All Time

Swimming may just be a common recreational activity for average people but for Olympic swimmers, it dominates their lives. Being a pro in this water sport means continuous practice. However, all the hard work would be worth it because of the sought-after gold medal.

Here are the best Olympic swimmers as of 2017:

15. Matt Grevers

Gold = 4/Silver = 2/Bronze = 0/Total = 6

Specifically, Matt Grevers is known to compete in freestyle and backstroke events. He didn’t only compete in the Olympics. He also joined the Universiade and the World Championships.

Lake Forest, Illinois is the hometown of Grevers. During his uni days in Northwestern University, he competed with the Wildcats in diving and swimming competitions. Interestingly, he considered to represent Netherlands at first as a professional swimmer. His parents came from Netherlands. Before making the final decision, Grevers spoke with the famous Dutch swimmer Pieter van den Hoogenband. In the end, he chose the United States.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Europe

13. Jason Lezak

Gold = 4/Silver = 2/Bronze = 2/Total = 8

Jason Edward Lezak became a swimmer for Irvine Novaquatics. He is a graduate of Irvine High School and the University of California. As a professional athlete, he is known in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle. He held a record previously for the 100-meter freestyle. Currently, he holds records in the long-course 400-meter freestyle and relays.

One great thing about Lezak is that he did not have his own personal coach. Before racing against Gary Hall, Jr. in the 100-meter freestyle, he was even praised by his opponent as a “professional relay swimmer.”

13. Roland Matthes

Gold = 4/Silver = 2/Bronze = 2/Total = 8

Amazingly, Roland Matthes is considered by sports critics to be the most successful backstroke swimmer in history. Why? From April 1957 to August 1974, he was winning every backstroke swimming competition. Aside from the Olympics, this German swimmer also won in four European and three world competitions successively. He managed to swim for 21 European and 19 world records in various events aside from backstroke namely medley, freestyle and butterfly.

12. Alexander Popov

Gold = 4/Silver = 5/Bronze = 0/Total = 9

Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov is a former professional swimmer representing Russia. He is considered a legend in the Olympics and, generally, in the sports world because of his tremendous skill in sprint freestyle swimming. He is the only male swimmer to achieve four gold medals in the Olympics’ freestyle events.

11. Johnny Weissmuller

Gold = 5/Silver = 0/Bronze = 0/Total = 5

Also an actor, Johnny Weissmuller was a professional swimmer representing the United States but originally born in Hungary. When it comes to film, he was playing the role of Tarzan from the 1930s to the ‘40s. During the 1920s, he was one of the fastest swimmers all over the world. Aside from his gold medals in the Olympics, he also had a bronze medal for playing water polo.

Overall in his swimming career, he won 52 national championships in the U.S. and more than 50 world records in backstroke and freestyle competitions.  He was undefeated in his whole swimming career.

After retiring from professional swimming, he started acting for Tarzan. He was the sixth actor to play the iconic ape man. He continued portraying Tarzan for 12 films. Another amazing thing about Weissmuller is that he is considered to be the best Tarzan because of his powerful and unforgettable signature yell. His memorable Tarzan yell is still used in movies.

10. Don Schollander

Gold = 5/Silver = 1/Bronze = 0/Total = 6

Donald Arthur Schollander is a former professional swimmer representing the United States. He is considered to be the most celebrated athlete during the 1964 Olympics because of his consecutive gold medals. He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a young athlete, he learned more about the water sport because of his uncle who was running a school for aspiring swimmers. But, his first passion was actually football. Sadly, he never made it because he was too small for the sport.

9. Tom Jager

Gold = 5/Silver = 1/Bronze = 1/Total = 7

Thomas Michael Jager is also a former professional swimmer representing the U.S. Aside from the Olympics, he also won two gold medals in the World Championship’s 50-meter freestyle event. He held the world record for 50-meter freestyle for more than 10 years.

8. Nathan Adrian

Gold = 5/Silver = 1/Bronze = 2/Total = 8

Nathan Ghar-jun Adrian currently has the American record for the long-course 50-meter freestyle. He debuted in the Olympics during the 2008 Summer. Throughout his whole swimming career, including outside the Olympics, he won 24 medals in major competitions around the world. Specifically, he has 15 gold, six silver and three bronze medals from the Olympics, the Pan Pacific Championship and the World Championship.

Nick Laham/Getty Images

7. Aaron Peirsol

Gold = 5/Silver = 2/Bronze = 1/Total = 7

Aaron Wells Peirsol is known to be a specialist in backstroke events when he was still a professional swimmer. Despite retirement, he still has the world record for the long-course 200-meter backstroke. He announced his retirement in February 2011. He once earned the American Swimmer of the Year Award. Peirsol managed to win 36 medals in all major sports competitions around the world. He won 29 gold and six silver medals from the Olympics, the Pan Pacific, the Pan American and the World Championships. In his whole swimming career, he only got one bronze medal.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Sport

6. Ian Thorpe

Gold = 5/Silver = 3/Bronze = 1/Total = 9

Ian James Thorpe is a professional swimmer from Australia. His specialty is freestyle, but he still competes in medley and backstroke events. Thorpe is the only Australian who managed to win five gold medals in the Olympics. He was the most celebrated athlete during the 2000 Summer Olympics because of his three gold and two silver medals. When it comes to the World Aquatics Championships, he is the first swimmer to achieve six gold medals in the same year. He currently holds the third spot for the highest number of World Championship gold medals which number to 11.

5. Gary Hall, Jr.

Gold = 5/Silver = 3/Bronze = 2/Total = 10

Gary Wayne Hall, Jr. is one swimmer with a big personality. He previously represented the U.S. for the Olympics. He is famous for his antics before any competition. Included in his unforgettable antics is going to the pool deck while wearing a robe and boxing shorts. Hall was also flexing and shadow boxing to entertain the audience.

AP Photo/Mark Baker

4. Ryan Lochte

Gold = 6/Silver = 3/Bronze = 3/Total = 12

Despite his controversial attitude and issues, Ryan Steven Lochte still proved himself worthy to be a world-famous athlete because of his achievements. He still holds world records in individual and team swimming events. He earned several awards such as the American Swimmer of the Year Award, the World Swimmer of the Year Award, and the FINA Swimmer of the Year Award.

Lochte created international fiasco when he vandalized the bathroom of a gas station during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil while getting drunk.

3. Matt Biondi

Gold = 8/Silver = 2/Bronze = 1/Total = 11

Matthew Nicholas Biondi represented the U.S. during the Summer Olympics in 1984, 1988 and 1992. Because of his tremendous success in competitive swimming, he earned the United States Olympics Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

2. Mark Spitz

Gold = 9/Silver = 1/Bronze = 1/Total = 11

Mark Andrew Spitz is one of the most respected competitive swimmers even after retirement. Swimming World Magazine even named him as the World Swimmer of the Year three times. Spitz won the most medals among Jewish athletes in the Olympics.

1. Michael Phelps

Gold = 23/Silver = 3/Bronze = 2/Total = 28

There’s no doubt about it – Michael Fred Phelps II is the best among the rest. His outrageous record of medals and awards is too difficult to surpass, even for athletes in other sports events. Obviously, Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete in history. His jaw-dropping achievements made him a celebrity, not just in the sports world but in the entertainment industry as well.

Final Thoughts

Swimming is a test of upper body strength and endurance. The training for this water sport is no joke. That’s why I’m completely amazed at all competitive swimmers, even those who did not belong in the top 15.