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

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

It’s time now for the other half of our swimming post. We’ve seen how things stand for the female swimmers, now let’s see how their male counterparts do. The format is the same as it was for the women – a swimmer needs 6 total medals and 4 gold ones to grant him a spot on the all-time lists.

Spoiler: Michael Phelps is not number 1 on both lists!

Just kidding, of course he is.

Most Medals – Men (6+)   Most Gold Medals – Men (4+)
Athlete # of Medals   Athlete # of Medals
Michael Phelps 33 Michael Phelps 26
Ryan Lochte 23 Ryan Lochte 15
Grant Hackett 18 Ian Thorpe 11
Ian Thorpe 13 Aaron Piersol 10
Michael Gross 13 Grant Hackett 10
Aaron Piersol 12 Jim Montgomery 7
Kosuke Kitajima 12 Michael Klim 7
Alexander Popov 11 Alexander Popov 6
Matt Biondi 11 Brendan Hansen 6
Michael Klim 11 Matt Biondi 6
Pieter vd Hoogenband 10 Cesar Cielo Filho 6
Brendan Hansen 9 Matt Welsh 5
Ian Crocker 9 Michael Gross 5
Jim Montgomery 9 Rowdy Gaines 5
Matt Welsh 9 Neil Walker 5
Laszlo Cseh 9 Yang Sun 5
Yang Sun 9 David McCagg 4
Rowdy Gaines 8 Ian Crocker 4
Klaus Steinbach 7 Jason Lezak 4
Lars Frolander 7 Joe Bottom 4
Norbert Rozsa 7 Tamas Darnyi 4
Neil Walker 7 Tom Jager 4
Cameron van der Burgh 7 Vladimir Salnikov 4
Fabien Gilot 7 Peter Vanderkaay 4
Jeremy Stravius 7 David Walters 4
Dirk Richter 6 Garrett Weber-Gale 4
Garry Hall Jr. 6 Ricky Berens 4
Oussama Mellouli 6
Roger Pyttel 6
Steffen Zesner 6
Vladimir Salnikov 6
Jason Lezak 6
Geoff Huegill 6
Paul Biedermann 6
Brenton Rickard 6
Frederick Bousquet 6
Cesar Cielo Filho 6
Danila Izotov 6
Nathan Adrian 6
Ryan Cochrane 6

Wow, Michael is first, and by such a huge margin! Who would have thought?!

Ok, I’ll stop now. 😦

So, yes, as expected, Michael is god amongst men. For me he is the greatest athlete ever, in all of sports. 33 medals, 26 of them gold! Damn! It’s true that Mark Spitz and other greats didn’t compete at the SWC’s, but I think Michael would have topped them all. His haul is simply unbelievable. No one will match or overtake him in the foreseeable future, and maybe ever. I feel really privileged that I got the chance to follow and watch him compete at his prime, and even a bit past that, like at the 2011 Worlds 2012 Olympics. In another post we will have a look at his individual most successful SWC’s.

A distant second in both lists is Ryan Lochte. Lochte is really unfortunate to compete in the same era as Michael, and their disciplines somewhat overlap. Still, he managed to carve an all-time niche for himself, and in my opinion he is a lock for the top-10 all-time list, and a borderline top-5. I think he loses to both Phelps and Thorpe from the elite swimmers that I have seen, but still – there is no shame in that. It’s like being Dr J. in the Bird and Magic era.

Lochte accumulated 23 total medals and 15 gold ones, and his advantage over 3rd places in both lists is also huge. He can rest assure that no one will catch him in the next few championships.

3rd on the all-time total list and tied for 4th on the all-time gold list is Grant Hackett, The king of the 1500m, who was the first man to win the same event (yeah, that’s right, the 100m breaststroke) in 4 consecutive SWCs. Hackett was fucking legendary, and I don’t feel like he is overshadowed by Thorpe the same way Lochte is overshadowed by Phelps. I was really sad to see Hackett lose to Oussama Mellouli in the 1500m in Beijing – both because Ousamma was once found guilty of doping violations and served a ban, and because he ruined Hackett’s chances of becoming the first man to win the same event in 3 consecutive Olympics. But hey, this means that Michael was the one to do it, and he accomplished the feat twice in London.

My all-time favorite swimmer, Ian Thorpe, is ranked 3rd in the gold medals list (11) and 4th in the overall list (13), which is amazing considering that he only competed in three SWCs! Thorpe was a wonder of nature when he competed, and to me he is still the second greatest male swimmer I have ever seen, after Ian Crocker of course. But sadly he ended his career very early, and his comeback plan didn’t work out the way he wanted. Recently I read his autobiography where he admitted to suffering from depression and alcoholism in the past, so forget the swimming, I just want to wish him physical wellness and a peace of mind.

BTW, The summer of 2004 has a very special place in my heart – I was 17, and it was the summer after my last year in school, and a couple of months later I was due to start my 3 years military duty in the IDF. But that summer was totally worries-free, and it coincided with Ian’s marvelous Olympics, which I revere even more than his awesome 2000 campaign. His exploits in the pool have a big share in my great memories from that glorious summer.

Sharing with Ian the 4th place in the overall list is The Albatross, Michael Gross. This huge German swimmer (West-German for a change!) had more success in SWC’s than in the Olympics, and he managed to collect 13 medals over the course of his career (but only 5 golds). Not much to say about him, though…

Next up is Aaron Piersol, another swimmer whom I simply admired during the years he competed in. The greatest backstroke swimmer of our era (and he has a good claim for the all-time title as well, there’s probably a 60% chance that he IS the greatest EVAR) obviously won almost all of his medals in the backstroke events, and in fact he won the golden triple of the backstroke – swimming the 100m, 200m and the 100m in the 4x100m medley, in both the 2003 and the 2005 championships. Add to that the triple success he had in Athens in 2004, and you’ll see why I admire this awesome and humble swimmer.

Over the course of his career Aaron won 12 total medals, of which 10 were gold ones – an excellent record! That’s good enough to put him 4th in the gold medals list and 6th in the overall list. And interestingly, Aaron also has one backstroke-unrelated medal from Barcelona 2003 – it’s in the 4x200m freestyle. Interesting. I was very sad when he ended his career, but also happy that I managed to catch him in his peak. No backstroke swimmer had reached the same heights since then.

The last swimmer I would like to mention is Kosuke Kitajima. If Piersol is the greatest backstroke swimmer of our era, Kitajima shares a similar status in the breaststroke. The dude twice won a golden double in the Olympics, for fuck’s sake!

However, it’s funny, but Kitajima has more Olympic gold medals than SWC gold medals – 4 vs. 3. He won a whole bunch of medals in the SWCs – 12 in total – tied with Piersol for 6th all-time, but it looks like he really brought his A-game to the Olympics. Nevertheless, his medals were won over the course of 6 different SWCs, which is a testament to his longetivity and excellence over time. Will he manage to win some more? I don’t know, since he’s already 32 years old. Damn, I do miss his battles with Brendan Hansen…

So now we’ve seen the leaders. But what does the future holds for these lists? Who can climb some rungs in the ladder and come a bit closer to the one and only Michael? Well, like I said before – I don’t think anyone can catch Michael, not now and not ever. Some new Phelps must appear to better these records, and this is such an unlikely scenario… Maybe in 30 years or so.

Lochte is also set for eternal number 2. Well, maybe not eternal, but since he won’t catch Michael and he had a big-ass advantage over 3rd place in both lists, this will be his place for the next decade or so.

Who of the current active swimmers might crack soon the top 5 in any of the lists? Unfortunately we don’t have a male equivalent of Missy Franklin, but we do have someone… My money is on Sun Yang, the great distance swimmer. Currently Sun, who is still only 22 years old, already has 5 gold medals and 9 total. Sun is a really GREAT distance swimmer, and when he kicks into 6th gear late in the race, no one is able to hold on to his staggering pace. In my opinion, he has no real competition these days, and his 3 gold medals from Barcelona 2013 are a testament to that – he won a grand slam of distances – 400m, 800m and 1500m, and singlehandedly carried the Chinese quartet to a bronze medal in the 4x200m. And speaking of which, it’s such a unique experience to watch him in relays, honestly! When you have the chance, concentrate on the way he swims and forget about the gold medal race – it’s really a no-brainer with the Americans. But watching Sun simply burn the water and singlehandedly winning a medal for his team, bringing them from 5th to 3rd for example – that’s fucking awesome!!!

Anyway, Sun is capable of winning all three distances mentioned above, and he’s also well capable of winning a medal in the 200m, although the schedule will probably not allow it. I think that it’s a reasonable bet to say that in 2017, when we’ll have two more SWCs, Sun will have 10 gold medals and 15 overall. That will put him in the top 5 for both total and gold medals lists.

So yes, let’s keep our fingers crossed for Sun Yang, he is a real phenomenon. And maybe Michael will treat us as well to a few more medals of his own, if he decides to go on with the comeback for Rio 2016…

So, this concludes our second half of the all-time medalists in the Swimming World Championships. Honestly, I thought about publishing this piece a couple of days after I wrote about the female swimmers, but I have a shitload of work to do at the university, so I will consider it to be a success if I manage to publish one long post per week, not counting the short ones I publish from time to time.

Until we meet again!

YES!!! We made it to Michael's blog!!!

YES!!! We made it to Michael’s blog!!!

1 thought on “All-Time Top Medalists in the Swimming World Championships – Men

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

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