All Time Top Medalists at a Single Swimming World Championship – Men

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

Ok, we’ve looked at the most successful SWC’s for female swimmers. Now, what about the male swimmers? Who had the most successful single SWC ever? Is it Phelps? Is it not Phelps??? Is this tension too artificial? Well, yeah, sort of. So ok, you know already that Phelps holds every possible record there is, but let’s see whose records he broke and what other great hauls were there, in the history of the SWC’s…

The criteria to enter the all-time lists here are the same as they were for the female swimmers – 3 gold medals and 4 total medals at a single SWC. Well, no further explanations are needed, let’s see who are the best of the best!

Most Medals – Men (4+)     Most Gold Medals – Men (3+)
Athlete # of Medals     Athlete # of Medals
1 Michael Phelps 7 – 7,0,0 (2007) 1 Michael Phelps 7 (2007)
2 Michael Klim 7 – 4,2,1 (1998) 2 Ian Thorpe 6 (2001)
2 Michael Phelps 7 – 4,2,1 (2011) 3 Ryan Lochte 5 (2011)
4 Matt Biondi 7 – 3,1,3 (1986) 3 Michael Phelps 5 (2009)
5 Ian Thorpe 6 – 6,0,0 (2001) 3 Michael Phelps 5 (2005)
6 Michael Phelps 6 – 5,1,0 (2005) 3 Jim Montgomery 5 (1973)
6 Michael Phelps 6 – 5,1,0 (2009) 7 Michael Phelps 4 (2011)
8 Ryan Lochte 6 – 5,0,1 (2011) 7 Ryan Lochte 4 (2009)
9 Michael Phelps 6 – 4,2,0 (2003) 7 Michael Phelps 4 (2003)
10 Jim Montgomery 5 – 5,0,0 (1973) 7 Michael Klim 4 (1998)
11 Ryan Lochte 5 – 4,0,1 (2009) Ryan Lochte 3 (2013)
12 Rowdy Gaines 5 – 3,2,0 (1982) Yang Sun 3 (2013)
13 Ian Thorpe 5 – 3,1,1 (2003) Aaron Piersol 3 (2005)
13 Grant Hackett 5 – 3,1,1 (2003) Brendan Hansen 3 (2005)
13 Grant Hackett 5 – 3,1,1 (2005) Grant Hackett 3 (2005)
16 Ryan Lochte 5 – 2,3,0 (2007) Aaron Piersol 3 (2003)
17 Michael Gross 5 – 2,1,2 (1982) Alexander Popov 3 (2003)
Jeremy Stravius 4 (2013) Grant Hackett 3 (2003)
Ryan Lochte 4 (2013) Ian Thorpe 3 (2003)
Yang Sun 4 (2013) Matt Biondi 3 (1991)
Yang Sun 4 (2011) Matt Biondi 3 (1986)
Aaron Piersol 4 (2003) Rowdy Gaines 3 (1982)
Alexander Popov 4 (2003) David McCagg 3 (1978)
Grant Hackett 4 (2001) Timothy Shaw 3 (1975)
Pieter vd Hoogenband 4 (2001) Andrew Coan 3 (1975)
Alexander Popov 4 (1994)
Denis Pankratov 4 (1994)
Garry Hall Jr. 4 (1994)
Matt Biondi 4 (1991)
Michael Gross 4 (1991)
Michael Gross 4 (1986)
Brian Brinkley 4 (1975)
Roland Matthes 4 (1973)

Ok, now let’s look more closely…

Surprisingly, Michael Phelps doesn’t occupy the top 5 spots in each of the lists. Although he does hold the top spot, two of the top 3, 4 of the first 7 and 5 of the top 9 spots in the overall list, and the top spot, 3 of the top 6 and 5 of the top 10 spots in the gold medals list. This is dominance beyond anything I can imagine. Maybe one can compare it to Wayne Gretzky’s dominance in the all-time NHL’s best seasons lists. Phelps participated in his first SWC in 2001, when he was only 16, winning a single gold medal, but two years after that he really hit it big time, winning 6 medals – 4 of them gold ones. In fact, it’s amazing, but the only SWC that Phelps participated in and which is not among the top 10 greatest single SWC’s of all time is the one he participated in when he was 16 years old! I mean – what?!

 In 2003 Michael won 4 gold medals, in 2005 – 5 gold medals. In 2007 he broke both his own and the all-time record for gold medals in a single SWC, when he won 7 gold medals! Of course, he went for 8 of them – this was supposed to be the general rehearsal for the Beijing Olympics. However, the pursuit for a more un-fucking-believable record was ruined when Ian Crocker caused a DQ for the US team in the 4×100 medley, thus ruining Michael’s chances for 8 golds. Thus, he went to Beijing without ever winning 8 gold medals in a single

"Oh come on Crocker, why did you have to DQ?!"

“Oh come on Crocker, why did you have to DQ?!”

major championship… But you already know what happened there. But anyway, at the SWC’s, Michael record is 7 gold medals in a single championship. It’s funny, but people don’t regard his performances at the 2009 and 2011 SWC’s as great, but as you can see – he was still the best performer medals-wise in each of them. And in 2011 he did what only three other men (one of them being Phelps himself) has ever done before that – winning 7 medals at a single SWC. True, “only” 4 of them were gold this time, but come on! Are you fucking kidding me?! Personally, I would love it if Michael made a comeback for the 2016 Olympics. He is one of THE greatest athletes evar, and every time I watched him swim I got goose bumps.

Well, enough about Michael, although I feel like I could write forever about his exploits. One may be surprised to see who has the second best all-time haul in term of total medals. In fact, until Michael came in 2007, the person sitting atop of that list was another Michael – Klim. Klim had an amazing SWC in 1998 on his home turf, winning 4 gold medals, two silvers and one bronze. This is pretty surprising, since I’m not sure Klim is even in the all-time top 5 Australian swimmers, but here he is, sharing the second best all-time haul in a single SWC with the great Michael Phelps. Klim in fact attempted a comeback before the 2012 Olympics, not unlike his great compatriot Ian Thorpe, but the result of this attempt was sadly virtually the same for both of them. Anyway, Klim may be lying 2nd in the overall list, but he is only 7th in the golden list, since “only” 4 of his 7 medals were of the best color. Well, actually everyone knows that green is the best color. But you get what I meant…

The only other swimmer who managed to win 7 medals in a single SWC is the great Matt Biondi, who did it in 1986. True, his haul included “only” 3 gold medals (and only one of them in an individual event), which came with 1 silver and 3 bronzes, but still – it was impressive nonetheless. It also served as a precursor to his amazing Olympic campaign two years later, when he attempted to emulate Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals in a single Olympics. He came close, winning 5 golds, one silver and one bronze…

Sitting in 5th place in the overall table and in second place in the gold list is the great Ian Thorpe, who, at 18 years of age, had an amazing SWC in 2001, winning 6 gold medals. With that campaign he set a new record for the most gold medals in a single SWC. He swept the 200-400-800 freestyle events, and to think he also missed a medal in the 100m freestyle by two hundredths of a second… Wow! This might be the second greatest ever performance at a single SWC, after Michael’s 2007 campaign.

Got Swim?

Got Swim?

Thorpe is also featured in the 13th place in the overall list, with his haul from the 2003 SWC. I remember feeling very sad when I heard about his retirement. This year I read his autobiography and realized what troubled life he had, and my sympathy for him only grew. Such an amazing swimmer, and personality. So far he is the greatest male athlete ever to come out, and I can only hope his example will inspire others.

After Thorpe we get two more doses of Phelps in the overall list, and then, sitting in 8th place overall and 3rd place in the golden list is Ryan Lochte, with his 2011 campaign (6 medals – 5 gold ones, 1 bronze). I can’t stress it enough – if we were living in a world without Michael Phelps, Lochte would have been revered as the greatest swimmer of the last 10 years. He could have even surpass Thorpe in the all-time greatness rankings, since he would have even more gold medals than he has now – both in the SWC’s and the Olympics. Lochte is featured 3 times in the top 16 overall hauls, and he is the only swimmer other than Phelps to have more than one of his championships featured in the top 10 gold medals list – Lochte has 2, while Phelps has 5, like I mentioned earlier.

One can argue that Lochte’s 2011 campaign was more successful than Michael’s. After all, Ryan did win 5 gold medals to Michael’s 4. AND he managed to set a WR, which if I’m not mistaken was the first one to be set in the post-swimming-suits era. So yeah, no matter how one looks at it, Lochte rocks.

The only male swimmer who managed to win 5 gold medals in a single SWC, other than those who were already mentioned here, is Jim Montgomery. Montgomery, the first ever swimmer to swim under 50 seconds in the 100m freestyle, achieved this feat at the first ever SWC. That was back in 1973, and Jim was only 18 years old. Yet he managed to win the 100 and 200 freestyle events, and added a clean sweep in the relays. Pretty awesome, huh? Montgomery held the record for most gold medals in a single SWC for nearly 4 fucking decades, until Thorpe bettered him in 2001. Thorpe’s mark stood for a mere 6 years before Michael made it 7 golds in a single SWC. Now, this record will surely hold for many years, too. Not sure if for 38 years like Montgomery’s record did, but still…

The only other swimmer I would like to mention here is the great Grant Hackett (who appears twice in 13th place in the overall list), for me – the greatest distance swimmer ever, at least until Yang Sun (or should it be Sun Yang? I can never remember which form is the correct one) manages to better his achievements. Hackett was the first and so far the only swimmer to win a particular event in 4 consecutive SWC.

Wait, what?!

You mean to tell me Michael didn’t win a particular event more than 3 times in a row?!

Well, yes, that’s right. Michael’s best streak is 3 consecutive SWC’s. But, this is simply because he chose to drop his go-to event, the 200m butterfly, from his program for the 2005 edition. This is an event he dominated ever since he was 15, winning it in the 2001, 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2011 SWC’s. So he could have easily made it 6 in a row if he felt like not altering his regular program. But there you go. Mystery solved.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Grant Hackett. So yes, Hackett won the 1500m in 4 consecutive SWC’s – 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005. His 2003 and 2005 campaigns were particularly successful, and he won 5 medals (3 golds) in each of them. In 2005 he even made double history – apart from winning the 1500m title for the 4th consecutive SWC, he also became the first man to win the triple of 400-800-1500m. Sun Yang became the second man to do it in 2013, and in fact he might try to go for a quadruple, since he is also an amazing 200m swimmer (as anyone who watched him singlehandedly win medals for the Chinese relay team in the 4x200m would know). I don’t know whether the schedule will allow it, but hopefully it will…

So now we covered everything there is to cover about the Swimming World Championships. We’ve seen who are the leaders in overall medals and gold medals, and who had the most successful hauls in a single SWC. What is left for us now is to wait for the summer of 2015, when the next edition will take place in Kazan. Hopefully, after it we will have some work to do in updating those all-time greatest lists…

Ryan and Michael, when they see that some unattended gold medal is up for grabs.

Ryan and Michael, when they see that some unattended gold medal is up for grabs.


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