History’s Top Competitive Swimmers

Although it has always been a popular pastime, swimming first entered the scene as a competitive event in the early 1800s. Since its humble beginnings as a single-stroke sport with crudely constructed rules, it has evolved into one of the world’s most popular individual sports. In its long and rich history, swimming has seen its fair share of shining moments and star athletes. Experienced swim coach Mike Kotch claims that there are three swimmers that stole the spotlight, took home gold, and pushed the boundaries of what was previously considered possible.

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz is a world-renowned American swimmer. His swimming career in the 1960s and 1970s was one riddled with promise and achievement, but he is most known for his performance at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, where he took the title as the world’s greatest swimmer.

In Munich that year, Spitz took home a whopping seven gold medals — more than any single athlete had claimed since the beginning of the Olympic games in. Additionally, each of his gold medals was set in world-record time, a feat never before imagined.

Outside of the 1972 Olympic games, Spitz also won 25 AAU Championships, 8 NCAA titles, and broke an astounding 32 world records. The world had never seen a swimmer of his caliber before, until American swimmer Michael Phelps entered the scene in the early 2000s.

Michael Phelps

According to Mike Kotch, Michael Phelps stepped into the spotlight in 2008 when he won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, finally breaking Mark Spitz’s 1972 record. By the end of the 2008 Olympic games, Phelps held one Olympic Record and 7 World Records for a number of swimming events.

By 2016, Phelps had been the top-performing Olympic athlete for four consecutive Olympic games. By the time he finally retired at the end of that year, he had won 65 gold medals, 14 silver medals, and 3 bronze medals, totaling to an outstanding 82 medals in major international events and participated competitively in the Olympics, the Pan Pacific Championships, and the World Championships.

Outside of his medals, Phelps has also won an innumerable amount of swimming awards and received more media coverage than most famous athletes could ever dream of.

Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky premiered on the scene of international competitive swimming in the 2012 London Olympics at the age of 15. During the games, she shocked the world by claiming the gold medal in the women’s 800-metre freestyle despite her age.

After that year, Ledecky’s competitive swimming career skyrocketed. In 2016 during the following Olympic games, Ledecky returned to claim four gold medals, one silver medal, and two world records.

Now, she is known as the most decorated female swimmer in the history of the Olympics. Though her career continues, she currently holds 31 medals in international competitions such as the Olympics, the World Championship, and the Pan-Pacific Championship. Though her achievements boast world records and numerous medals, she is not finished yet; Ledecky plans to compete again in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where she will surely claim more success.

Mike Kotch on the Future of Swimming

Mike Kotch claims that these three athletes defied odds and were able to take their sport to the next level. Current athletes should look to their accomplishments as a source of inspiration.