Top 6 Best Men's Swimmers of All Time

Best Mens Swimmers of All Time

Swimming is a grueling sport that requires countless hours of hard work both in and out of the pool. To make it to the top of the sport requires incredible talent and dedication. This list breaks down the six greatest men’s swimmers of all time.  

Who are the best men’s swimmers of all time?

  1. Michael Phelps
  2. Mark Spitz
  3. Ian Thorpe
  4. Ryan Lochte
  5. Aleksandr Popov
  6. Matt Biondi

1. Michael Phelps

  • 28-time Olympic medalist (23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 gold)
  • Won 8 gold medals in 2008 Olympics, the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics
  • Competed in his first Olympics at just 15 years old

Michael Phelps is considered by many to not only be the greatest men’s swimmer in the history of the sport but also perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time. His 28 total Olympic medals, including 23 gold medals, are incredible numbers that another swimmer may never match. In 2008, Phelps had perhaps the best Olympic performance of all time by winning the gold medal in every event he swam in, a total of eight; in seven of these events, he also broke world records. His versatility and talent combined with incredible dedication made Phelps a true legend in the sport of swimming.

2. Mark Spitz

  • 11-time Olympic medalist (9 gold, 1 silver, and 1bronze)
  • Won 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympic Games
  • Held record for most gold medals in a single Olympics for 36 years

Mark Spitz held the record for the most gold medals in a single Olympics and most career Olympic gold medals for a men’s swimmer before Michael Phelps came along. In 1972, Spitz had an incredible Olympic performance, winning 7 golds, a record that stood for 36 years. Spitz also broke the current world record in each of those seven races in the Munich Games. Overall, Spitz finished with 11 Olympic medals, including nine golds, one silver, and one bronze, which stands as the second-most all-time for a men’s swimmer. Spitz specialized as a sprinter in both freestyle and butterfly events. 

3. Ian Thorpe

  • 9-time Olympic medalist (5 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze)
  • Most accomplished Australian swimmer of all time
  • Beat Michael Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle in the 2004 Olympics

Ian Thorpe is the greatest men’s Australian swimmer of all time, which is an impressive feat considering the passion Australia has for swimming. He is also one of just two non-Americans to crack the top six list, an honor he earned by amassing nine career Olympic medals, including five golds, three silvers, and one bronze. Thorpe specialized in the middle distance freestyle events, the 200 and 400-meter races. He also helped guide Australian teams to four Olympic relay medals. He represented his country admirably in the Sydney Games as just a 17 year old in 2000, earning two individual golds that year.

4. Ryan Lochte

  • 12-time Olympic medalist (6 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze)
  • 62 World Championship medals including 36 golds
  • Competed in the individual medley and 200-meter freestyle events

Ryan Lochte became a bit of a controversial figure outside of the pool, but in the water, he is easily one of the greatest men’s swimmers of all time. While the greatness of Michael Phelps often overshadowed him, Lochte cemented his place in swimming history by collecting 12 Olympic medals, including six gold medals, three silvers, and three bronze medals. Lochte was a versatile swimmer, competing in both the individual medley events and the 200-meter freestyle. Lochte also excelled in World Championship events, earning 62 medals in those competitions, including 36 golds. 

5. Aleksandr Popov

  • 9-time Olympic medalist (4 gold and 5 silver)
  • Widely considered to be the greatest sprint freestyle swimmer of all time
  • Won 26 medals in European Championships, including 21 gold

Aleksandr Popov is the greatest Russian swimmer of all time and perhaps the greatest men’s freestyle sprinter ever as well. Popov started his competitive career as a backstroker, but he flourished once he transitioned to freestyle. Overall, Popov won nine career Olympic medals including four gold medals and five silvers. He also dominated in both World Championship and European Championship competitions, winning 11 World Championship medals including six golds, and 26 European Championship medals including 21 golds. Those impressive performances earned him European Swimmer of the Year in 1994 and 2003, and the Russian Athlete of the Year and European Sports Press Union Athlete of the Year in 1996. 

6. Matt Biondi

  • 11-time Olympic medalist (8 golds, 2 silver, and 1 bronze)
  • One of three swimmers to win 7 medals in one Olympics
  • Missed out on a 9th gold by just 0.01 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly in 1988

Matt Biondi established himself as one of the greatest men’s swimmers of all time by becoming one of just three men to win seven medals in one Olympics. He accomplished this feat in the 1988 Games held in Seoul. Biondi was an elite sprinter in both freestyle and butterfly, winning individual medals and helping the United States team win three relay golds. Overall, Biondi won 11 Olympic medals, including eight gold medals, two silvers, and one bronze medal. Biondi was an intense competitor and he used that fire to dominate the sport during an eight-year run from 1984 to 1992.


Who is the greatest men’s swimmer of all time?

Michael Phelps is easily the most accomplished swimmer of all time and one of the greatest individual athletes of all time. His dominance in the Olympics is unmatched, and his peak performance came in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he won 8 gold medals and set 7 world records, the most ever in a single Olympics. His total of 23 Olympic gold medals may never be topped, and he still holds 5 Olympic records. Phelps was a versatile swimmer with skills that had never been seen before.

Who has won the most Olympic gold medals in men’s swimming?

Michael Phelps has won the most Olympic gold medals in swimming. In fact, his 23 gold medals are more than double the next closest swimmer, Mark Spitz, with nine career Olympic gold medals. Phelps is one of just four men to win more than six Olympic gold medals in swimming. His incredible medal count has him in the conversation as perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time, regardless of sport.

Who holds the most Olympic swimming records?

Including relays, Michael Phelps has five total Olympic records, the most all-time. As of 2022, Phelps holds the record in the 200-meter individual medley, the 400-meter individual medley, the 200-meter freestyle, the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, and the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay. Phelps set all five of these record times during his historic performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.