Thursday, 3 January 2013

Top 50 Swimmers of 2012 - 20 to 11

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


  1. 12 for Lochte.. You shoudl be ashamed of yourself

  2. Great work Tom. I cannot wait for the final installment.

    One thing I find quite puzzling is that despite your (appropriately) effusive comment about Allison Schmitt's achievement, her ranking will at least 6 spots lower than Camille Muffat.

  3. So top 10 will include Cameron van der Burgh but neither Ryan Lochte nor Allison Schmitt? Sure, van der Burgh broke a WR but he did so in an "illegitimate" fashion.

  4. This list had some intense players, but I personally value the achievements of certain individuals (ie LeClos) higher than that of someone like Kromowidjojo and even Soni because of the significance of the accomplishment

  5. Camille Muffat did perform similarly to Schmitt at the Olympics, but looking at the year as a whole, she was streets ahead - a couple of unbelievable negative split swims before the summer, followed by short course world records in the 400 and 800 in November.

    I think Le Clos' achievement would have put him higher if Phelps had swam better throughout the rest of the meet, i.e. 4th place in the 400 IM, 51.21 100 Fly - unfortunately it was not quite the imperious Phelps of the late-noughties whom Le Clos beat.

    I also think it's a bit harsh to judge Lochte solely against his expectation in his other events, his 400 IM did rank among the best IM swims of all time, but if you look at the top 10, all of them either broke a (long course) WR or won more than 1 individual gold, both of which Lochte failed to do.

  6. Ryan Lochte number 12? No jeah for you

  7. (except Agnel and Muffat - Agnel won the 4x100 freestyle relay with a 46.74 split = best ever textile relay split, and Muffat had a stronger season overall in my opinion)

  8. I think this list is unfair in that the swimmer's are judged on what the expectations on them were and past performances. Ryan Lochte's IM performances and relays warrant him to be ranked above Le Clos and at least in the top 10 (especially above a cheater like Van der Burgh). I think people forget that in no way is Lochte's 47.7 split slow! Agnel had an unbelievable split and there was no other person from the USA who could have matched his split! Allison Schmitt is also undervalued. She obliterated the field and the textile record in the 200 free. In my opinion it was one of the most amazing performances of the games. She was also just behind Muffat in the 400, setting the american record in the process. Also, she was on two gold medal, olympic record setting relays (one was WR and the other just missed). Finally she got bronze in the 400 free relay. While this may sound american bias, i think many will agree that these two should be ranked ahead of definetly Le Clos and Van der Burgh, possibly Agnel, Muffat, Soni, and Vollmer.

  9. Let me guess, Phelps will be the top swimmer for his 3-peats in the 200IM and 100fly!! Ye did the unbelievable... Missy won 100/200m (WR and American record respectively) back though the free events were an anticlimax.. Other than Dana Vollmer and Ranomi, noone else in the top 10 proved to be "invincible" @ the olympics... Sun won silver 200free, Agnel missed a medal in 100free, Soni was pipped 4 gold by Ruta etc....

  10. ...and Cameron van de burgh's 10mbreast WR was not without controversy... Camille being ranked higher than Schmitt is pretty sensible owing to her super consistency throughout the whole year including short course textile world records and incredible negative splits

  11. Kosuke Hagino should be in the top 50 over Hansen.

  12. Thank you for your efforts to make this list! Many may disagree positions of some swimmers (usually ones that come from their home country) but you really justify your choices well and of course everybody are free to make their own lists. However, good and appropriate debate is always welcome.

    I want to present one argument concerning what importance should be given to performances in relays. First, Swimming is an individual sport. Second, at the olympic level only larger swimming countries fight for the medals. It would be very exceptional to countries such as Finland (my county), Norway or Kiribati to have relay team even in the final. We have great individuals - occasionally - but emergence of four such an athlete at the same time needs almost miracle. Sometimes when I read these comments I get the feeling that some people doesn`t notice this at all.

    The author`s choise not to value relay medals highly is exactly right. As for valuing race-changing relay contributions, it is a different story. Still, we have to remember that some individuals don`t ever get a chance to show their abilites in relays at the olympic level. Actually, one reason why european swimming federation want to have these mixed relays may be the fact that it`s easier for smaller countries to have a couple of good male and female swimmers than the whole quartet.

    I have nothing against relays! Ecpecially men`s and women`s 4x100 free relays are always very exciting to follow.

    1. Camille Muffat
    2. Sun Yang
    3. Yanick Agnel

    1. I get what you're saying about relays, but should Ryan Lochte's good relay performance, that looked bad because of Agnel's GREAT split, be used against him? I feel like this list knocks people down a couple rankings if they did not live up to their expectations, even though they still went fast (Lochte). A 4:05, 1:54, and 1:53 are still really fast! Only 1 man has gone that fast textile in the 4 IM (lochte), 2 in the 200 IM all suits (Lochte and Phelps), and 3 in the 200 back in textile (Irie, Clary, and Lochte). If you want to add suits for the 400 IM and 200 back there is only one more swimmer in both (Phelps and Peirsol)! No other man has been 1:54 in the 200 Im and 1:53 in the 200 Back, let alone do it in the span of an hour! Lochte's swims were still fast in these three events, just not as fast as people had expected. The guy also set two WR at Short Course Worlds and scored a ridiculous 8 medals! While this may seem like a crazy lochte fan post,I honestly do not like him that much (the interviews kill me). I admire his insane work ethic and would like to see his performance better represented.

      The fact that Van der Burgh is in the top 10 is ludicrous. He cheated. Just because the officials didn't see him cheat doesn't mean that it was ok for him to do. I don't even count his performance as the world record or textile best because he cheated and even announced it to the world. But whatever I guess its ok for everyone to cheat now, as long as they don't get caught.

    2. Lochte is superb swimmer and I put high value on that as a multiple shourt-course champion he still bother to compete at these short course championships. Phelps showed his finger at short course games excluding home competition in Indianapolis at 2004. Maybe FINA should take this into account (putting value on who appreciate FINA`s competitions) when considering it`s own swimmer of the year and put Lochte ahead of Phelps but that didn`t happen in this year. I`m not disputing that long course championships would not be the most prestigious competitions in the world of swimming (beside of Olympics).

      I agree with you that on this list there might be some "discrimination" against great athletes that missed the expectations placed upon them. Maybe being the best swimmer of the year (on this list) additionally requires to improvement of performances or making noticeable breakthroughs. Maybe this is also reason why this list may have some ability to predict future. For example, year ago author put Camille Muffat at 40th position and wrote:

      "This selection may raise a few eyebrows, especially considering that Kylie Palmer who finished ahead of Muffat in the 200 Free in Shanghai missed out on the Top 50"

      As for relays I have to continue just a little. There is also good counter arguments why we should put even more value for relay performances especially regarding athletes from high-volume swimming countries. For instance, in Finland there is no any elimination trials to pick olympic athletes. If a swimmer manage to go under qualifying time standards set by FINA you are in. Whereas in US you must pass rock-hard olympic trials which, itself, is a noteworthy performance. As far as I can remember Dana Vollmer missed the Beijing Olympics. As a finnish swimmer she probably would have more olympic medals. My "counter-argument" goes: being a relay swimmer for US, itself, is a performance that should be taken into account.

      But everyone makes own lists! As for my list why Muffat is at the top position is the way she swim. That is something so beatiful, effortless, technique etc etc.

  13. Lochte:
    5 olympic medals (2 golds)
    8 worlds medals (6 golds + 2 WR)

    Why is he in n°12? UNFAIR!!!

  14. Ryan Lochte is the swimmer with more medals in 2012. He should be - at least - Top 5.

  15. Missed opportunity to post the animated GIF of Ruta's medal ceremony! (aka my fave moment of the Olympics)