All-Time Top Medalists in the Swimming World Championships – Women

An update: Here’s the link to the updated 2015 rankings


After we dealt with the all-time medalists at the Athletics World Championships, it’s time to move on to the other great event that captivates us during the summers of odd years – the release of the new Harry Potter book!

Oh, wait a minute, we’re not in 2007 anymore… Crap…

Well, actually, I meant the Swimming World Championships. And yes, I know it’s called the World Aquatics Championships and that swimming is only part of the program. Still, I’m going to call it the SWC, since swimming is the only thing I find of interest. Fuck you, synchronized swimming!

Now, the Swimming World Championships go back further than their Athletics counterparts – they were first held in 1973. However, they also enjoyed greater unpredictability. Sometimes two years would pass between successive championships, sometimes more. Check out the years in which they were held until 2001. I think even John Nash would find it hard to find a pattern here:










What the fuck is going on here?! Did they simply roll a dice after each championship to decide how many years to go before they have the next one? Go home FINA, you’re drunk. Seriously, this is plain weird. After 2001, though, they finally came to their senses, took example from the Track & Field championships, and started having them once every two years. Well, you have to admit it was a very complicated solution to come to. No wonder it took them 28 years.

I admit, my interest with the SWC started pretty late. I always loved swimming, and watched all the swimming competitions in the Olympics starting from Sydney 2000, but for some reason I didn’t think about watching the World Championships until 2009, although I did followed them a bit via newspapers and the internet, which was finally invented by then. Perhaps it was because my dad, who introduced me to the wonderful world of sports, didn’t watch the SWC’s either, and only watched swimming when it was featured in the Olympics. But after the un-fucking-believable swimming events of Beijing 2008, I decided that next summer I will watch the Worlds as well. And I convinced dad to join me in this new endeavor. I mean, he introduced me to the Athletics World Championships, I had to pay him back. Together we enjoyed a great championship, with a huge amount of world records (it was still the super-suits era) and great success for the Italian home team, led by my favorite female swimmer of all-time, Federica Pellegrini. Unfortunately, I never got to see my favorite male swimmer of all-time, Ian Thorpe, compete at the Worlds. I didn’t miss a single Thorpe-minute at Sydney and Athens, but it’s a pity I didn’t get to see his greatest show ever at Fukuoka 2001.

Well, anyhow, back then, after Rome 2009, I started with the project of mapping all the medalists EVAR at the SWCs. And if this sounds familiar it’s because this was actually the project that started it all – the track & field project came after the swimming one. So like you’ve already seen in the Athletics World Championships posts, I created an excel file with all the medalists at every SWC. I had two files, actually, one for the men and one for the women. To make them I used some FINA handbook I found online, not unlike the one I used later to make the track & field files. However, I don’t know where this handbook came from, and I can’t locate it now. It went Keyser Soze on me and puff, disappeared… But it was definitely something official, by FINA and all that. I used it to map the data until Melbourne 2007, and after that I simply updated it every two years.

The female swimmers file I made looks like this:

Jesse, we have medals to count!

Jesse, we have medals to count!

An athlete wins a medal and gets counted in an excel file, and you think that of me? No. I am the one who counts!

I simply can’t resist “Breaking Bad” quotes. Anyway, the plan for this post is the same – to have a look at the all-time gold medals and total medals leaders among women in the SWC’s history, and then to make another post for the men. However, in swimming it will also be interesting to have a look at the most successful individual championships. In track & field, the maximum number of medals ever won at a single World Championships is 4, while in swimming it’s 7 (which should have been 8! Damn you, Ian Crocker!), and many swimmers over the years had very successful championships in which they won many medals. So, separate posts will be dedicated to individual successes. But first, let’s have a look at the all-time leaders among female swimmers in both gold medals and total medals. Yes, sexes equality and all that. I decided to start with the female athletes this time.

So, without Freddy Adu, here we go:

Most Medals – Women (6+) Most Gold Medals – Women (4+)
Athlete # of Medals Athlete # of Medals
Natalie Coughlin 20 Missy Franklin 9
Lisbeth Trickett 15 Kornelia Ender 8
Jenny Thompson 14 Lisbeth Trickett 8
Leisel Jones 14 Natalie Coughlin 8
Missy Franklin 11 Jenny Thompson 7
Jessicah Schipper 10 Kristin Otto 7
Kornelia Ender 10 Leisel Jones 7
Shirley Babashoff 10 Katie Hoff 7
Dana Vollmer 10 Hannah Stockbauer 5
Jessica Hardy 10 Inge De Bruijn 5
Antje Buschschulte 9 Jessicah Schipper 5
Kristin Otto 9 Xuejuan Luo 5
Mary T. Meagher 9 Tracy Caulkins 5
Ranomi Kromowidjojo 9 Jodie Henry 5
Kirsty Coventry 8 Heike Friedrich 4
Tracy Caulkins 8 Kate Ziegler 4
Marleen Veldhuis 8 Jingyi Le 4
Therese Alshammar 8 Rosemarie Kother 4
Jodie Henry 8 Ulrike Richter 4
Alicia Coutts 8 Yana Klochkova 4
Yuliya Yefimova 8 Federica Pellegrini 4
Hannah Stockbauer 7 Rebecca Soni 4
Xuejuan Luo 7 Dana Vollmer 4
Otylia Jedrzejczak 7 Jing Zhao 4
Petria Thomas 7 Katie Ledecky 4
Sandra Volker 7
Susan O’Neill 7
Yu Yang 7
Britta Steffen 7
Katie Hoff 7
Diana Munz 7
Stephanie Rice 7
Amanda Weir 7
Federica Pellegrini 7
Amy Van Dyken 6
Annemarie Verstappen 6
Dagmar Hase 6
Franziska Van Almsick 6
Inge De Bruijn 6
Katherine Heddy 6
Laure Manaudou 6
Manuella Stellmach 6
Rosemarie Kother 6
Yana Klochkova 6
Kate Ziegler 6
Rebecca Soni 6
Lacey Nymeyer 6
Yafei Zhou 6
Tara Kirk 6
Inge Dekker 6
Emily Seebohm 6
Katinka Hosszu 6
Lotte Friis 6

Now let’s see what we can make out of these numbers.

Natalie Coughlin is the all-time leader, and by a really large margin, in the overall medals table, and this is despite not competing at the 2009 SWC, when she might have been at her top form, having won 6 medals at the Beijing Olympics a year earlier! However, out of Natalie’s 20 medals, “only” 8 are gold ones! This is not quite the Ottey scenario, but still – WTF?! 13 out of her 20 medals were won in relays, BTW. Now, Coughlin is a great swimmer, a top-10 all-time, but it still feels weird when she is the one who leads all the swimmers in total medals won, with her record looking to stand for the next 3 years, or even more, if Missy Franklin decides that it is not yet time to break it.

And speaking of Missy Franklin… The greatest female swimmer I’ve ever seen, hands down. She burst onto the scene in Shanghai 2011 as a 16 year-old, sweeping 5 medals, including 3 golds. Now she’s 19, and already has a career to put her in the top-10 of all-time. What Missy had done in the 3 years period of 2011-2013 is simply mind-fucking. Over the course of only two World Championships she already became the all-time leader in gold medals! At 18 years of age!!! We’ll talk about her magnificent 2013 SWC in a later post, but look at her numbers – 9 gold medals, 11 overall! And she’s still only 19 years old! Only something really unpredictable can prevent her from setting the bar so high that no woman will be able to catch her EVAR. Seriously. She’s THAT GOOD and she already accomplished THAT MUCH. We’ll see her next year, when she will probably climb from the 5th overall place to the 2nd.

In doing so, she will bump the lovely Lisbeth Trickett into 3rd. For some reason it seems to me like Lisbeth has been here forever, but she’s still only 29 years old. Lisbeth was an awesome sprinter, and her always-present smile turned her into everyone’s favorite, or so it seems to me. Until Franklin came, Lisbeth shared the record for most gold medals with Kornelia Ender – they both had 8. Coughlin joined them on the first day of the Barcelona 2013, and had a few days to enjoy the top position, before Missy came and showed them who’s the boss. A hint – it’s not Tony Danza.

Kornelia Ender – what an East-German name! But you will be surprised – she’s from China! Well, no, I jest, she’s actually East-German. I mean, how can you be something other with that name. You can’t even be West-German, this is such an East-German name…

Anyway, Kornelia was the bee’s knees during the early SWC days, and collected all of her 8 gold medals and 10 total medals during the first two editions of the SWCs. However, as we all know, all those East-German achievements are tainted by (most probably) drug use, and so I don’t want to dedicate her more blog-space than needed.

Lying at 3rd place all-time in total medals and 5th place in gold medals is a true legend of the sport – the great Jenny Thompson. Jenny, the legendary sprinter, has 14 medals, 7 of which are golden. However, as in Coughlin’s case, the bulk of her medals were won via relays – 9, in fact. In the Olympics it’s even more pronounced: Thompson won 12 Olympic medals, but only 2 (!!!!!!!) of them were individual. However, we won’t hold that against Jenny, who enjoyed a remarkable and very long career.

Next on our list – Leisel Jones. 7 gold medals, 14 overall, good for 5th and 3rd places all-time, respectively. The breast specialist is still only 29 years old, but she is already retired, and won her last World medal in 2011. I liked Jones. She burst onto the scene at only 15 years of age, winning the silver at the 100m breaststroke in Sydney. Since then she was for several years the best breaststroke female swimmer in the world, until the recent new wave of breast swimmers came and she was forced to battle for the silvers and the bronzes in events she once dominated. We’ve seen her for the last time during London’s Olympics, where she won silver in the 4*100m medley.

Kristin Otto – tied for 5th all-time in gold medals with 7, but with only 9 total medals. That’s neat, but she will obviously be mostly remembered for her amazing triumph at the Seoul Olympics – 6 gold medals. That was really amazing, but once again – she is from East Germany, so make whatever you want from it.

Katie Hoff shares with Otto, Thompson and Leisel Jones the 5th place all-time in gold medals – she also has 7. Amazingly, that’s also her total – she never won any other medal. Now, Hoff is a mystery. She was touted as the female Michael Phelps back in 2008, but disappointed greatly when she returned with “only” 3 medals, none of them gold. Maybe she suffered from the overhype. Nevertheless, she was more successful in the SWC’s, winning the medley double at both the 2005 and the 2007 editions. However, she pretty much disappeared since the 2011 World Championships, failing to qualify for London. Don’t know what’s up with her, she’s still only 25 but it looks like she is finished as an elite swimmer. I really hope to be wrong on this point, I sort of liked her back then.

Well, that’s it for the top swimmers. However, there are two more swimmers that I would like to focus on, briefly.

Alicia Coutts is the first: This Australian swimmer had a bit of a late surge, meaning that she didn’t win anything in her teens, but she really made a splash in the pool in recent years. You can see her in the overall table – she has 8 total medals, which is really awesome, considering the fact that she won them over the course of only two SWC’s – the most recent ones. However, you will have a very hard time finding her in the gold medals table, even if I were to publish the complete list and not just the leaders. The reason? Coutts has none! And even more than that – out of her 8 medals, 7 are fucking silvers! She is truly the silver queen, and we will talk more about her unbelievable 2013 campaign in the near future.

The second – and the last swimmer I would like to mention, is my all-time favorite Federica Pellegrini. The amazing Pellegrini was THE queen of the middle distances, winning doubles in both Rome 2009 – on her home turf, and Shanghai 2011. However, the last couple of seasons were really rough on her – she didn’t win anything in London, and only managed a silver in her favorite 200m freestyle at Barcelona 2013. True, she did lost to the greatest female swimmer of our time – Missy Franklin, but still…

Anyway, Federica is present in both lists – she has 7 medals overall and 4 golds. And no, despite what you might think, I didn’t tailored the lists specifically for her! When I first started with it in 2009, she had only 2 golds and wasn’t included in the gold medals all-time leaders list. True, now her totals are barely enough to grant her entry to both lists, but Federica still has a few years left at the top. It seems like she always been with us, but she is still only 26 years old…

So this concludes our first post on the Swimming World Championships. Three more (at the least) are to follow – the men’s equivalent of this post, and the greatest triumphs at a single SWC – separate posts for male and for female swimmers.

Stay tuned!

Natalie: "Yes, one more medal to my enormous collection!" Missy: "Enjoy that top spot while you can. sis..."

Natalie: “Yes, one more medal to my enormous collection!”
Missy: “Enjoy that top spot while you can. sis…”

4 thoughts on “All-Time Top Medalists in the Swimming World Championships – Women

  1. Pingback: All Time Top Medalists at a Single Swimming World Championship – Women | Michael's Sports Statistics

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