The second annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but as you would expect, this year the Olympic Games carried the most weight in the decision making process. Other outstanding achievements away from London were also acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better an Olympic medallist. Also worth noting, relay medals alone were not valued highly, however race-changing relay contributions were.
We're reaching the business end of the list. The fourth instalment takes us from 20 to 11...
20. Florent Manaudou - 2012 Highlight - Stunning victory in the 50 freestyle in London, setting a new textile best time in the process
There were a number of potential likely outcomes prior to the 50 free final, France's Florent Manaudou winning was not one widely shared in the swimming community. Manaudou swam a 22.0 heat and a 21.8 semi to rank 6th going in to the final. From lane 7 the Frenchman was faultless throughout the race winning in 21.34, breaking Fred Bousquet's textile best time by 0.02. The gap between Manaudou and silver medalist Cullen Jones of 0.20 seconds was the biggest winning margin since Matt Biondi in 1988. Manaudou had a strong SC season, but did lose out to Vlad Morozov in Istanbul. Cesar Cielo also finished the year ranked second, just 0.04 seconds behind Manaudou's time. All of that means the 50 free in Barcelona will be electric.
19. Jiao Liuyang - 2012 Highlight - Crushing the field on the final length of the 200 butterfly final in London, setting a new Olympic record and textile best time.
At Worlds in 2011 Jiao Liuyang led for the entire race and finished with a 33.40 final split. Despite the victory, she nearly lost the race to a fast charging Ellen Gandy. The Chinese flyer clearly learnt her lesson in London. On the way to her 2:04.06 winning time, Jiao Liuyang unleashed a stunning 31.31 homecoming split. The closest anyone came to that closing speed was USA's Camille Adams (5th) who closed in a 32.23.
She was utterly dominant in her 200 fly final in London, but was narrowly beaten by Katinka Hosszu in Istanbul in the 200 fly.
18. Nathan Adrian - 2012 Highlight - Being on the golden side of a 0.01 margin of victory in the 100 freestyle.
Nathan Adrian delivered on the biggest stage of all, taking down the odds-on favourite James Magnussen not once, but twice. Firstly Adrian gave the US 4x100 free relay a good platform for victory with the only sub-48 second lead-off leg, crucially finishing ahead of Magnussen. The fact that the team did not deliver the gold was no reflection on Adrian's contribution. The 100 freestyle final would be his defining moment of the Games, and is a definite candidate for race of the year. Adrian lost the lead to his Australian rival with 15m to go, but at the exact moment sprinters normally suffer, Adrian managed to find a second wind to overhaul Magnussen on the touch (albeit after a poor finish from Magnussen). His final contribution was a stunning 46.85 relay split on the 4x100 medley relay. The one knock on Adrian that holds him back from being higher in the list is that Magnussen's 47.10 still ranks considerably faster than Adrian's 47.52 at year's end.
17. Ruta Meilutyte - 2012 Highlight - Winning a shock Olympic gold in the 100 breaststroke as a 15 year old
Meilutyte broke into the swimming world's collective consciousness after leading all qualifiers after the heats of the 100 breaststroke. After improving her time again in the semi-finals down to 1:05.21, expectations started to sky rocket. Despite all the pressure, she delivered Lithuania their first ever swimming gold medal as an independent nation as she held off the late challenge of Rebecca Soni. The follow up to Meilutyte's display in London came at World SC in Istanbul. Winning the 50 breast & 100 breast double in European records as well as a silver in the 100 IM, the youngster confirmed her status as one of swimming's new superstars.
16. Allison Schmitt - 2012 Highlight - Blowing away her opposition to win the 200 freestyle in London by nearly 2 seconds in a textile best time of 1:53.61
Allison Schmitt's winning margin of 1.97 seconds in the 200 free was bigger than Rebecca Soni's 200 breast victory, it was also bigger than Missy Franklin's 200 back gap to silver. In fact, it was a bigger margin of victory than all other 200m events in London (men and women). Federica Pellegrini's 200 free world record of 1:52.98 now looks like a tantalizing target for Schmitt in Barcelona. Schmitt's medal haul didn't stop at the 200 free either. She pushed Camille Muffat all the way in the 400 freestyle before ending up with the silver medal. She also overhauled Alicia Coutts and Australia on the anchor leg of the US 4x200 free relay gold medal team and swam the freestyle leg of the world record setting US 4x100 medley team and anchored the US bronze medal winning 4x100 free relay. Despite not being in top form in Istanbul, she won the world SC title in the 200 free comfortably, although Camille Muffat had been 2 seconds faster a month before.
15. Katie Ledecky - 2012 Highlight - Winning the Olympic 800 freestyle title in the second fastest time ever.
Ledecky and Ruta Meilutyte were born two days apart on separate sides of the world, but together the two 15 year olds turned the swimming world on its head in London. Ledecky first came to prominence at the US trials in Omaha. After narrowly missing out on a place in the 400 free, she won the 800 free in 8:19.78. That was the warning sign of what was to come in London. In the Olympic 800 final the American used the time honoured race tactic of 'breaking the field', splitting 4:04.3 at 400m she built an unassailable lead over a final that included Rebecca Adlington, Lotte Friis and Mireia Belmonte Garcia. Ledecky was under WR pace at 750m and eventually ended up with gold and the second fastest time ever (breaking Janet Evans' 23 year old American record). If this list was based on just one race, Ledecky would find herself higher than 15. Had she qualified for (and made waves in) the 400 free and/or broken the 800 free world record she might have been looking at a Top 5 spot.
14. Matt Grevers - 2012 Highlight - Annihilating the field in the 100 backstroke final in London to win in 52.16
What a year 2012 has been for Grevers. Video of his proposal to Annie Chandler went viral (and she accepted), he came within 0.14 seconds of Aaron Peirsol's 100 back world record at US trials, became Olympic champion winning by 0.76 seconds and finished the year as world SC champion in the 100 back. This is the same man that missed out on a place on the 2011 USA Worlds team in Shanghai. From a neutral perspective we can only hope that Camille Lacourt is back to his 52.11 form from 2010 when the two men meet again in Barcelona, Peirsol's world record is on borrowed time.
13. Daniel Gyurta - 2012 Highlight - Winning Olympic 200 breaststroke gold in a new world record of 2:07.28
How is Gyurta still only 23 years old? The Hungarian picked up his first Olympic gold medal, 8 years after winning silver in Athens as a 15 year old. He also set a new world record in the process, having just enough strength to hold off Michael Jamieson in the last 5 metres. He also narrowly missed out on a medal in the 100 breast by 0.04 seconds. Then, just a month after London he saw his world record taken away from him by Akihiro Yamaguchi. Its not often an Olympic champion who breaks the world record ends the year ranked no. 2. Gyurta regained the upper hand in Istanbul when he took down a loaded 200 breast final that included Jamieson and Yamaguchi.
12. Ryan Lochte - 2012 Highlight - Dominating the 400 IM final, winning by 3.68 seconds.
A spot outside the Top 10 will not please the army of Lochte fans, but the heir apparent to Michael Phelps underperformed in London. His highlight, the 400 IM, came on day 1 and thereafter Lochte's performances seemed to drop off. He lost out to Tyler Clary and Ryosuke Irie in the 200 back, and didn't medal in the 200 free. He finished behind Phelps in the 200 IM and then could only watch as Yannick Agnel swept past him in the 4x100 free relay to snatch gold away from the USA. He did have some level of redemption in the 4x200 relay with a strong 1:45.15 lead off leg. The Florida man might have slipped further down the list had it not been for his starring role at the World SC Championships. His two world records, three individual titles and three relay golds reaffirmed his status as the best SC swimmer in the world. Next year I fully expect Lochte to be back in the Top 5, although there are some chinks appearing in his armour.
11. Chad le Clos - 2012 Highlight - Beating the unbeatable Michael Phelps in his pet event, the 200 butterfly
Talking of heir apparent to Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos might just be it. Le Clos has emerged as a superstar of swimming (with the obligatory legion of female fans). Le Clos did not set any new world records, or textile best times in London, but his 200 butterfly victory was such an incredible achievement that he gets this lofty place ahead of other record breakers. His 100 fly silver showed his developing speed, which was even more evident in Istanbul as he got within striking distance of the 100 fly world record. Had he taken part in the 200 fly, there is a good chance we could have seen a new 200 fly world record. The real test of whether le Clos has made the jump to the next level of stardom will be seen in 2013 by how many other swimmers start wearing goggles around their neck.
Top 50 so far...
50. Brendan Hansen
49. Oussama Mellouli
48. Yulia Efimova
47. Aya Terakawa
46. Cesar Cielo
45. Yevgeny Korotyshkin
44. Katinka Hosszu
43. Melanie Schlanger
42. Lu Ying
41. Vladimir Morozov
40. Nick Thoman
39. Thiago Pereira
38. Cullen Jones
37. Ryan Cochrane
36. Takeshi Matsuda
35. Christian Sprenger
34. Anastasia Zueva
33. Rebecca Adlington
32. Elizabeth Beisel
31. Ryosuke Irie
30. Satomi Suzuki
29. Alicia Coutts
28. Park Tae-Hwan
27. Emily Seebohm
26. Mireia Belmonte Garcia
25. Michael Jamieson
24. Aliaksandra Herasimenia
23. Akihiro Yamaguchi
22. James Magnussen
21. Tyler Clary
20. Florent Manaudou
19. Jiao Liuyang
18. Nathan Adrian
17. Ruta Meilutyte
16. Allison Schmitt
15. Katie Ledecky
14. Matt Grevers
13. Daniel Gyurta
12. Ryan Lochte
11. Chad le Clos