Saturday, 5 January 2013

Top 50 Swimmers of 2012 - The Top 10

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.

Top 50 (50-41)
Top 50 (40-31)
Top 50 (30-21)
Top 50 (20-11)
Expert Poll: Top 10 Swimmers of 2012

This is it. The final instalment takes us from 10 to 1.


10. Cameron van der Burgh - 2012 Highlight - Dominating the 100 breaststroke final, winning in a new world record and finishing the job that his close friend Alex Dale Oen had started

Until this year van der Burgh was considered to be a speed merchant who didn't quite have the endurance to win a global title over 100m. That all changed in London. Van der Burgh went out in a lightning fast 27.07 first 50m, but what was even more impressive, on the way home only Christian Sprenger split faster than the South African. This in a final that included 200 breast champion Daniel Gyurta, Kosuke Kitajima and Brendan Hansen. Some sentimentality also comes with this pick, due to van der Burgh's dedication of his victory to Alexander Dale Oen who tragically passed away just 3 months before the Olympic final. For anyone who would like to see the South African dropped lower down the list because of his admission of illegal fly kicks, rewatch the final. He was certainly not alone.


9. Camille Muffat - 2012 Highlight - Becoming Olympic champion in the 400 freestyle in 4:01.45, leading from start to finish

It says a lot about Muffat's year that London didn't rank as one of her most impressive performances of the year ... and yet she still came away with an individual gold and silver medal. Muffat makes the Top 10 for consistent brilliance across for the entire year. Her 4:01.13 from French Olympic trials was spectacular. Her consistency of swimming 1:55s and 1:56s in the 200 freestyle all year long was incredible, with her fastest effort of the year a 1:54.66 from Olympic trials. She also had some of the most incredible splits we've ever seen. A 8:23.60 effort in the 800 free with splits of 4:18.7 and 4:04.8 as well as a 4:02.97 swim in the 400 free with splits of 2:04.4 and 1:58.5. She rounded out the year with total dominance of women's short course freestyle with world records in the 400 free (3:54.85) and 800 free (8:01.06) as well as a 1:51.65 for good measure in the 200 free.


8. Rebecca Soni - 2012 Highlight - Stamping her authority on the 200 breaststroke by breaking the world record twice in two days en route to gold

Rebecca Soni had been knocking on the door of Annamay Pierse's 200 breast world record since 2010, in London she took out that frustration by breaking it twice. Firstly in the semi-final she crept under the mark by 0.12 seconds, she then took the record down another 0.41 seconds to 2:19.59 in the final. Despite excellent swims from the other medallists in London, Soni still finished first in her final by over a second. Soni came very close to doubling up in the 100 breaststroke, but couldn't quite get past Ruta Meilutyte in the final. She also threw down a 1:04.82 relay split on the USA's world record breaking 4x100 medley relay. Had a young Lithuanian not emerged in London, Soni would have been vying for a Top 5 spot.


7. Dana Vollmer - 2012 Highlight - Saving her best swim of the year for the 100 butterfly Olympic final where she won gold in a new world record of 55.98

Of all swimming events in 2012, male or female, nobody dominated their event like Dana Vollmer and the 100 fly. Not only did Vollmer take the event to uncharted territories by breaking the 56 second barrier, she set the new standard without the aid of her competitors snapping at her heels. Peppering the world rankings with 56 and 57 second swims she was in a league of her own this year. Her heat, semi and final times from US Trials and the Olympics were all faster than the next fastest swimmer this year in the 100 fly. In the Olympic final she turned in third before turning on the jets with the only sub-30 second final split to win by 0.89... and here's a terrifying prospect for her rivals, she had an awful finish. I would also argue that her 55.48 relay split was the key leg in the world record breaking USA 4x100 medley relay.


6. Michael Phelps - 2012 Highlight - Winning the 200 IM in 1:54.27, well clear of long time rival Ryan Lochte

The greatest of all time hung up his goggles in London and did so with an extra four gold medals and two silvers to add to his hefty collection. For that reason alone Phelps will top many people's lists this year, but not mine. Let's look at what Phelps didn't do in 2012. He didn't set an Olympic record, a textile best time or a world record this year. Every other swimmer in the Top 10 set at least one of these. He also failed to medal in the 400 IM and lost the 200 butterfly to Chad le Clos. That's not to say he had a bad year. His 200 IM victory was clinical, as was his 100 butterfly to a slightly lesser extent. As always Phelps showed up in the relays too. In the 4x100 free relay, had Yannick Agnel not raced to his out of this world split of 46.74, we would have been talking more about Phelps' 47.14 second split that put the USA in a great position to win. His 1:44.0 200 free split was the second fastest of the entire relay, again behind Agnel, and his 50.73 fly split in the 4x100 medley relay took the USA from 2nd to an unassailable gold medal winning position. Phelps is the greatest swimmer and greatest Olympian of all time, but that doesn't automatically make him the best swimmer of 2012.


5. Ye Shiwen - 2012 Highlight - Unleashing a spectacular freestyle split to win the 400 IM in a new world record time of 4:28.43... and surviving the media furore that followed

Ye Shiwen entered London as a 16 year old known in the swimming community for her fast finishes and 200 IM world title. She left as one of the most talked about athletes of 2012, sadly not enough of the discussion was focused on the positives... her two superb IM swims. Her 400 IM was sensational, after tracking Elizabeth Beisel for 300m, she came home in a spectacular final 100m time of 58.68. Employing the same tactics in the 200 IM, she swept past Alicia Coutts to win in a new textile best time of 2:07.57. Ye Shiwen couldn't have done any more in her two swims in London and she missed out on a Top 3 spot by the narrowest of margins. Ultimately swimming only two events in London without any relay heroics dented her chances.


4. Missy Franklin - 2012 Highlight - Leading from start to finish in the final of the 200 backstroke in London, setting a new world record in the process

Franklin was the most successful female swimmer in London from a medal standpoint. She left with 4 golds (2 individual + 2 relay) as well as bronze in the 4x100 free relay. As well as her individual world record in the 200 back, she also led off USA's world record setting 4x100 medley relay. London was a sensational first Olympic Games for Franklin, and she is well on her way to becoming the biggest name in American swimming. She had a couple of disappointments in London as she finished 4th in the 200 freestyle, missing bronze by 0.01, an event many had predicted her winning in the build up to the Olympics. She was also outside the medals in the 100 freestyle with a 5th place finish. Those two swims were just enough to keep her out of the Top 3, but like Ye Shiwen, by the narrowest of margins. This year Franklin also confirmed her status as the friendliest person to ever enter a body of water.


3. Ranomi Kromowidjojo - 2012 Highlight - Winning the 50 free in a new textile record and Olympic record of 24.05, her second individual gold medal of the Olympic Games

All Olympic swimming events are equal... but some events are more equal than others. Kromowidjojo just so happened to take part in three of the most iconic Olympic races (50 free, 100 free, 4x100 free relay) and was sensational in all of them. In her individual races Kromowidjojo set new Olympic records to win both the 50 free and 100 free, emulating her compatriot Inge de Bruijn's achievements from 2000. Not only did she win them, she won them by some distance. In the 50 free a stunning start took her clear of the field before winning by 0.23 seconds. In the 100 free she turned in fourth, but a superb turn and second 50m gave her victory by 0.38 seconds. The best swim from Kromowidjojo came in the 4x100 freestyle relay, even though the Dutch had to settle for a silver medal behind Australia. Kromowidjojo, swimming the last leg, started 1.36 seconds down on Australia but produced a sensational relay split of 51.93 to make things interesting. Had she been up against a lesser swimmer than Mel Schlanger, she might just have done it. Kromowidjojo also set a new textile best time of 52.75 in the 100 free back in April. Looking back over the last 12 months, Kromowidjojo is the undisputed fastest woman in water.


2. Sun Yang - 2012 Highlight - Lowering his own 1500 freestyle world record by 3 seconds to win his trademark event in London

Sun Yang was spectacular in London. He got the ball rolling by winning the 400 freestyle in 3:40.14, just 0.07 shy of Paul Biedermann's world record (and 0.08 seconds shy of Ian Thorpe's textile best time). By doing so he was also able to beat his Korean rival Park Tae Hwan into second and get some revenge for his defeat in Shanghai at Worlds the year before. In the 200 freestyle he tied with Park Tae Hwan for silver in a new national record, beating Ryan Lochte and Paul Biedermann in the process. Then came his 1500 free masterclass. His slowest 50 of the entire race was a 29.54 as he dropped his rivals one by one, then came the fireworks at the end of the race. His final 100m was a 53.49, his final 50m a 25.68. This came after 1400m of racing. The only slight disappointment of his Olympic efforts was his 1:45.55 split in the 4x200 free relay (0.6 seconds slower than his individual final), although he did move from 5th to 3rd to secure a bronze for China. Had this list been focused on the Olympics alone, Sun Yang would have been number one.


1. Yannick Agnel - 2012 Highlight - Overtaking Ryan Lochte in the final 10m of the 4x100 free relay to become a national hero back in France

Yannick Agnel takes the number one spot for two of the most stunning moments from London as well as his brilliant end to the year in the short course pool. Agnel did not return with the medals of some of the others on this list, he also did not set a LC world record. On the surface he seems like an odd choice for the top spot, but then you just need to cast your mind back to Sunday 29 July and the men's 4x100 freestyle relay. After France lost out to the USA in the same race on the back of Jason Lezak's heroics in Beijing, it was a memory that haunted an entire nation for four years. In the intervening years they unearthed Yannick Agnel and tested him on the final leg of several relays, each time he performed well. As all attention shifted to theAustralia vs USA showdown, the French knew they had a weapon they could deploy on the final leg. Even so, the race looked over as Agnel dived in over half a second behind superstar Ryan Lochte, a proven commodity in relays. He also had James Roberts and Danila Izotov just behind him. After the takeover Lochte extended his lead before Agnel closed the gap at the turn to 0.30 seconds. The American's turn opened up the gap again to Agnel, before the Frenchman managed to draw level with Lochte with 10m to go. In the next 10m Agnel delighted a nation and ended 4 years of hurt. His split time of 46.74 was Lezak-esque. In fact, Agnel Lezak'd the USA. That wasn't the end of Agnel's stunning Olympics either. The 200 freestyle was all set to be a clash of the titans. Lochte, Biedermann, Sun Yang, Park Tae Hwan and Agnel. Only Michael Phelps was missing. A race too close to call ended up being a procession for Agnel who won by 1.79 seconds to set a new textile best time of 1:43.14. He also just missed out on a medal in the individual 100 freestyle by 0.04 seconds finishing in 4th. His final contribution in London was the fastest 200 freestyle split of the entire 4x200 free relay (0.8 seconds faster than Phelps), to lead France to silver in the relay. It wasn't just London that sealed the top spot for Agnel. Throughout the early part of the year he was dropping incredibly fast swims, alongside team mate Camille Muffat they were two of the early stars of 2012. He also didn't slow down post-Olympics becoming the first man to break a Paul Biedermann suited world record with his 400 free time of 3:32.25 as well as just missing the 200 freestyle mark by 0.33 with his 1:39.70. As a comparison, the respective world titles in Istanbul were won in 3:39.15 by Paul Biedermann nearly 7 seconds slower than Agnel and 1:41.70 by Ryan Lochte, 2 seconds down on Agnel's time.

So there you have it, the Speed Endurance Swimmer of the year goes to France's Yannick Agnel



Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of 2012

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
10. Cameron van der Burgh
9. Camille Muffat
8. Rebecca Soni
7. Dana Vollmer
6. Michael Phelps
5. Ye Shiwen
4. Missy Franklin
3. Ranomi Kromowidjojo
2. Sun Yang
1. Yannick Agnel

13 comments:

  1. A world record will never ever be as important as Olympic gold so your logic in making this list is not valid. There are swimmers who were/are WR holders but never Olympic champions (for example Brendan Hansen and Paul Biedermann) and I'm sure they'd trade all of their records for one gold. WR can only last so far but when you're an Olympic champion, no one can take that away from you. Once champion, always champion.
    Also, it's ridiculous to compare Phelps to swimmers who only swim one stroke and 2 or 3 events...it's much easier for them to swim faster times when they were not as exhausted as Phelps was, with all the different events he had to swim. My two cents.

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    1. eh? since when were golds more important than world records? who decided that? being world record holder means you are the fastest that has ever been at that point in time... i would take that over a gold

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    2. only hardcore fans remember records. Records get forgotten, especially when they are broken. With a gold medal, you have the actual medal and everyone is impressed by an Olympic gold, and it lasts forever and you go down in history more.

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  2. Yeah but a world.record can be broken anytime even at no pressure meets. Many people cant stabd up at the big meets so a gold medal at the olympics is the opitimy of swimming greatness

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  3. No wonder why defending Olympic gold is all the more significant.. Rebecca Soni was the only one from the women's side to successfully defend her Beijing title... Superstars from Beijing like Rice, Kitajima,Adlington, Pellegrini,Coventry et.al failed that feat... And Michael Phelps managed to threepeat... So olympic gold does count... While the athletes i mentioned didnt do so well in London, their past olympic glory makes them swimming's eternal greats!!!!

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    1. This list was the swimmer of the year. It is a good question should value be given on performance that has happened four years ago. I would argue that this belongs to other lists. E.g. greatest swimmer of all time list as you put it yourself.

      Phelps truly is the greatest swimmer of all time. His "fails" at the beginning made it so exiting to see whether or not he can win three consecutive olympic medals in a single individual event. He made it and that is something. That is also how you should compare athletes between sports. For instance as a pole vault jumper it might be difficult to win number of medals that Phelps did. In order to Yelena Isinbajeva, who has done something unbelievable for women`s pole vault, to win such an amount of medals she must continue at least 64 years from now. It`s hard to be greatest olympian if you start wrong sport :)

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  4. No wonder why defending Olympic gold is all the more significant.. Rebecca Soni was the only one from the women's side to successfully defend her Beijing title... Superstars from Beijing like Rice, Kitajima,Adlington, Pellegrini,Coventry et.al failed that feat... And Michael Phelps managed to threepeat... So olympic gold does count... While the athletes i mentioned didnt do so well in London, their past olympic glory makes them swimming's eternal greats!!!!

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  5. Hoszzu not even in the top 50???

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    1. She's at 44, don't worry.

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    2. If there was a list of greatest endurance of the year Hosszu would be clearly at the top position. In many competitions she was capable to swim almost every events including trials before finals with outstanding outcomes considering the rest periods which was often just minutes. It must be demanding to be her life-companion ;)

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  6. On rationale for positioning Ranomi Kromowidjojo at 3rd author wrote:

    "All Olympic swimming events are equal... but some events are more equal than others. Kromowidjojo just so happened to take part in three of the most iconic Olympic races (50 free, 100 free, 4x100 free relay) and was sensational in all of them."

    I don`t come from english-speaking nation so I fear I don`t get this right. Does this mean in this explicit context that freestyle events are valued more highly than other strokes or that difficulty to win within these particular events is more challenging because of more intense competition? Almost the same but there is a slight difference. Options are not exclusive so it might be both :)

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    1. I Think it would be comparing with everyone else on the field..

      To clarity this, the guys who usually medal on 400IM are awesome, but apart from Phelps, Locthe, Cseh, Pereira and Hagino now.. who else has a chance?

      But Pick the 50 free and 100 free... it is a much stronger field overall..

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  7. Is there a list of 50 best swimmers of the year 2013 coming this time? I love the way how this list is written (language is so beautiful) and how well it's reasoned.

    -non-native English speaker.

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