SwimSwam’s Top 100 For 2023: Men’s #10-1

By James Sutherland on SwimSwam

After the action-packed year that was 2022, we’re gearing up for another exciting year over here at SwimSwam, and part of that is releasing our third annual Top 100 list—check out last year’s rankings here.

We’ve taken a more statistically-driven approach this year, while also taking into account things such as potential, World Championship medal opportunities, injuries, and versatility. Long course is weighted significantly more than short course, though performance potential in both formats is taken into account.

We’ll be breaking down the top 100 into multiple installments, so keep an eye out as they’re released.

These lists are, by nature, subjective. If you disagree, leave your thoughts/ranks in the comments.

Men’s Rankings:

#100 – #76
#75 – #51
#50 – #41
#40 – #31
#30 – #21
#20 – #11
#10 – #1

#10: Carson Foster, USA – If there was still any notion that Foster couldn’t perform when the pressure was on, he extinguished that theory last year as he had a massive breakthrough on the international stage. After getting over the hump at U.S. Trials, qualifying to swim the 200 and 400 IM individually at the World Championships while also taking third in the 200 free to book a relay spot, the University of Texas junior stepped up his game in Budapest, winning silver in both the 200 IM (1:55.71) and 400 IM (4:06.56). Foster’s time in the 400 IM ranked him eighth all-time, and #2 for the year behind Leon Marchand, who scared the world record in 4:04.28 and appears to be a lock in the event moving forward. In the 200 IM, Foster ranked third in the world behind Marchand and fellow American Shaine Casas, though it remains to be seen if Casas will focus on the event this year. Foster would have to be favored for silver in both medley events at Worlds, and he also showed off his versatility last year with some other big-time swims, as he finished 2022 ranked fourth in the world in the 200 fly (1:53.67), sixth in the 200 back (1:55.86), 10th in the 400 free (3:45.29) and 12th in the 200 free (1:45.57). The 21-year-old was notably the fastest American in the 400 free in 2022, though the event will conflict with the 400 IM in Fukuoka (but not in Paris). The 200 back and 200 fly both clash with the 200 IM at Worlds, but given his 1:53.6 performance out of nowhere last summer, there’s a chance he might take on the 200 fly this year, where he would be in medal territory (the final at Worlds would come a few events before the 200 IM semis). Wherever Foster chooses to put his focus outside of the two medley events, he’s the clear favorite for silver in both of those races, and was still within half a second of Marchand in the 200 IM last year. Foster could realistically medal in another event, but we’ll have to wait and see how his schedule shakes out.

#9: Kyle Chalmers, Australia – With his primary focus always geared towards one individual event, it’s difficult to gauge Chalmers’ value in these types of rankings. He’s yet to truly solidify himself as someone who could realistically win a World Championships medal in the 50 free, 200 free or 100 fly, and yet, his ability in the 100 free lands him in the top 10. Why? Part of the reason is Chalmers’ sheer ability to put Australia on the podium (or at the top of the podium) almost singlehandedly on relays, something we saw multiple times at the Short Course World Championships. But heading into this year, he seems to be locked in after coming into 2022 openly stating he would sit out of the World Championships after taking a break out of the water. He ended up swimming in Budapest, only contesting the 100 fly individually, but still managed to produce three 46-point 100 free relay swims for Australia. The 24-year-old then won the 100 free at the Commonwealth Games in a time of 47.36, ranking him second in the world behind world record-breaker David Popovici. In November, Chalmers said he had two primary goals he still wanted to achieve in the sport: winning the 100 free world title in short course and in long course. The following month, he went out and ticked off one of those boxes by clocking 45.16 to claim gold in the 100 free at the Short Course World Championships in Melbourne (having set the WR at 44.84 last year), and added free relay splits of 20.3/44.6/1:40.3 in the 50/100/200. Now that he’s all-in on the 2023 World Championships in the 100 free, Chalmers is due to break 47 seconds and challenge Popovici (and maybe one or two others) for the title. It would be great to see him take on the 200 free individually, having clocked a PB of 1:45.48 at the 2021 Olympic Trials, but that’s seeming less and less likely. But with the 100 free and his relay prowess, Chalmers will be an exciting swimmer to watch this year nonetheless.

#8: Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy – After succeeding Sun Yang as the best male 1500 freestyler on the planet, Paltrinieri saw his run of podium finishes in the event come to an abrupt hale at the Tokyo Olympics. The Italian won gold at the 2015 World Championships, 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships, and then settled for bronze in 2019 after a close battle with fellow Europeans Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk. In Tokyo, after coming down with mono one month out of the competition, Paltrinieri fell to fourth in the mile as American Bobby Finke emerged with the gold ahead of Romanchuk and Wellbrock. The knock against Paltrinieri in the past has been that if he’s in a close race, he’ll get out-kicked on the last 50. That still may be true, but at the 2022 World Championships, he put the rest of the field to the test early and set a pace no one else could match, soaring to gold with the second-fastest swim of all-time in 14:32.80. The now 28-year-old was also the world champion in the open water 10km, though he fell shy of the podium in the 800 free, taking fourth. He bounced back by winning gold in the 800 at the European Championships on home soil in 7:40.86, and added the 11th sub-14:40 swim of his career in the mile, though Romanchuk pulled away from him late to win gold. While some may argue that Paltrinieri’s gap over the rest of the world in the 1500 isn’t that significant, it’s important to point out that he’s been sub-14:36 five times, something Finke, Wellbrock and Romanchuk have never done. Last year, he was more than three seconds faster than anyone else in the event. In the 800 free, things are a bit more wide open among the four of them, and though Paltrinieri ranked fourth in the world last year, he was still just 1.5 seconds back of #1 Finke.

#7: Caeleb Dressel, USA – Perhaps the most controversial figure in these rankings, we still don’t have clarity on where Dressel is at in terms of his desire to continue competing this year—or ever—after abruptly departing the 2022 World Championships due to what was said to be medical reasons. Last year, Dressel was our #1 ranked male swimmer, a position he rightly earned after a dominant Olympic performance in Tokyo. In Budapest, the now 26-year-old American raced five times before withdrawing, still managing to pick up a pair of gold medals in the 50 fly and in the 400 free relay. So despite not taking on a full World Championship program, Dressel still ranked first in the world in the 50 free (21.29), 50 fly (22.57) and 100 fly (50.01), and his lead-off time from Budapest of 47.67 put him ninth in the 100 free. It’s a big if, but with Dressel back in full training over the next couple of months, he’s got a chance to win four world titles individually this year. Even at his best, he won’t be the favorite in the 100 free, with David Popovici taking over that mantle and Kyle Chalmers chomping at the bit, and in the 100 fly, Dressel will have to go through Kristof Milak, who gave him a good run in Tokyo and dominated the field for gold in Dressel’s absence in Budapest. But Dressel would still be the clear favorite in the 50 free and 50 fly, and given his ability to drop 49-high/50-low 100 fly swims over the last few years, he probably even is favored there. The 100 free is a bit of a different animal and there might be a scenario where he opts out of racing it if he feels he’s not fit enough to win. We’ll have to wait and see.

#6: Kliment Kolesnikov, Russia – Kolesnikov is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic talents in the sport, owning an incredible ability across long course and short course meters in the sprint free and back events, and he’s also proven he can drop world-class times in the 100 IM and some 200s (in SCM). The 22-year-old raced sparsely last year due to Russia’s competition ban, and despite having no clear international meet to prepare for on the horizon, he still finished 2022 ranked third in the 50 back (23.93), t-sixth in the 100 back (52.58), 11th in the 50 free (21.69) and t-17th in the 100 free (47.97). Kolesnikov also blasted his way to a new world record in the SCM 50 back (22.11) in November and added times of 48.82 in the 100 back and 20.8/45.6 in the freestyles. If able to compete, Kolesnikov will be in the hunt for medals in four individual events in Fukuoka, and likely the favorite in the 50 back. He may have lost his world record last year to Hunter Armstrong, but still, there have been seven swims in history 24.00 or faster, and Kolesnikov owns four of them. We also can’t forget he hit times of 47.11 in the 100 free and 52.00 in the 100 back at the Tokyo Olympics, which would put him in the mix with the top men in the world if he’s able to get back down to those times. This coming December, Kolesnikov also projects to be a force at the European SC Championships with the potential to break multiple world records.

#5: Ryan Murphy, USA – While Murphy has a claim that he’s been the best all-around male backstroker in the world since winning double gold at the 2016 Olympics it’s still hard to believe it took six years for him to win another individual long course title (Olympics or Worlds) after Rio. Murphy had consecutive silvers in the 200 back at the 2017 Worlds, 2019 Worlds and 2021 Olympics, and placed third, fourth and third at the same meets in the 100 back. At the 2022 World Championships, the American veteran finally got back on top by winning the 200 back in 1:54.52, and despite delivering his fastest 100 back performance in four years at 51.97, settled for silver behind Thomas Ceccon, who stole Murphy’s world record from Rio in the process. Having finished the year ranked first in the 200 back, second in the 100 back and 10th in the 50 back (24.57) in long course, Murphy then delivered a dominant performance at Short Course Worlds, sweeping the backstroke events and walking away with a total of six medals. Evgeny Rylov, who beat Murphy in the 200 back in 2017, 2019 and 2021, was suspended by World Aquatics (separately from the blanket Russian ban) and has said he was looking to focus more on the 50 and 100 last year, leaving Murphy as the clear favorite this year in the 200 back. In the 100, Murphy’s consistency puts him on the podium with the potential for gold. In the 50 back, the U.S. has become incredibly deep with three of the four-fastest swimmers ever in Hunter ArmstrongJustin Ress and Shaine Casas, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for Murphy to opt out of that race at World Trials, though he’s coming off of winning the SCM world title in the event while also dropping one of the (unofficial) fastest swims ever leading off the mixed medley relay in Melbourne at 22.37.

#4: Thomas Ceccon, Italy – One of the most versatile male sprinters in the sport, Ceccon had his big international breakthrough last year when he won the world title and smashed the world record in the 100 backstroke. Ceccon put up a mind-boggling time of 51.60 in the event, shattering Ryan Murphy‘s previous mark of 51.85 which had been on the books since 2016. Ceccon also neared medals in Budapest by placing fourth in the 50 back and fifth in the 50 fly, and added a 47.5 relay leg for Italy on the 400 free relay. The 22-year-old then racked up six medals at the European Championships, including individual golds in the 100 back and 50 fly, and he added six more medals at Short Course Worlds including individual gold in the 100 IM. In addition to his #1 ranking in the 100 back, Ceccon finished 2022 ranked fifth in the 50 fly (22.79), seventh in the 50 back (24.40) and 15th in the 100 fly (51.38). He was only 48.67 in the 100 free last year, but has a best time of 47.71 from Tokyo and it figures to be another event in which he can be among the top five or so in the world. He’s also coming off a 1:46.5 200 free in January, which suggests an improved endurance base to go alongside his world-class speed, and in addition to being the favored for multiple medals in Fukuoka, he’ll likely put up a massive haul of hardware at SC Euros at the end of 2023.

#3: David Popovici, Romania – Popovici grabbed hold of one of the few remaining super-suited world records last summer at the European Championships, clocking 46.86 in the men’s 100 freestyle to take down Cesar Cielo‘s 2009 mark of 46.91. That jaw-dropping performance came after Popovici roared to the world title in Budapest, as he established an unprecedented level of dominance in the event, recording 13 of the 19-fastest swims in the world last year. In fact, including mixed relay lead-offs, Popovici’s World Championship-winning swim of 47.58 was only his 11th-fastest swim of the year. The now 18-year-old Romanian also entered rarefied air in the 200 free, becoming just the third swimmer in history under 1:43 and the first in a textile suit at Euros by clocking 1:42.97. The Romanian native also won the world title two months earlier in 1:43.21, and had two more swims sub-1:45 to give him four of the top-five performances of the year. A full second and a half clear of the rest of the world in the 200 free, Popovici has become a lock for the world title in that race, while in the 100 free, he’s still a massive favorite despite the expected challenge incoming from Kyle Chalmers (and possibly Caeleb Dressel). Chalmers ranked second in the world last year at 47.36, still a half-second back of Popovici and a time the Romanian was faster than eight times in 2022. It might happen at some point, but Popovici hasn’t established himself as a medal contender in the 50 or 400 free as of yet, but there’s no doubt he’s a big favorite for two individual titles this year. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that, despite openly voicing his displeasure for short course, Popovici won silver in the 200 free (1:40.79) and placed fourth in the 100 free (45.64) at SC Worlds in December.

#2: Leon Marchand, France – Marchand was a revelation in 2022, as not only did he kick down the door in the collegiate system by winning two NCAA titles in March during his freshman year at Arizona State, but the Frenchman truly wowed the crowd at the World Championships in Budapest. Marchand dominated the 400 IM on the opening day of the meet, putting a real scare into Michael Phelps‘ 14-year-old world record before ultimately producing the second-fastest swim of all-time in 4:04.28. The 20-year-old Marchand also won gold in the 200 IM, clocking 1:55.22 to move into #6 all-time, and he added a silver medal in the 200 fly in 1:53.37, placing second to Kristof Milak. Marchand’s time drops last year were almost hard to fathom, given he took off five seconds in the 400 IM, nearly three in the 200 IM and two in the 200 fly. Coach Bob Bowman said recently that Marchand is giving him vibes of Phelps in 2003, the year before his dominant performance at the Athens Olympics. In the NCAA, Marchand opted to race the 200 breast over the 200 fly at last year’s championship meet, and although he didn’t race it at Worlds, Marchand did throw in a 2:08.76 LCM 200 breast last July which ranked 12th in the world and was within a second of the #2 spot. He could realistically add that event to his program in Fukuoka, making him the favorite for gold in two events and a likely medalist in two more. Marchand was in the conversation of being ranked #1, but given that his gap over his competition isn’t that wide in the 200 IM, and the best he could do in the 200 fly is seemingly silver due to the dominance of Milak, he ends up at #2.

#1: Kristof Milak, Hungary – Milak has attained an unmatched level of dominance in the 200 fly, is the reigning world champion in the 100 fly, and after taking the next step in his freestyle ability in 2022, lands as our #1 male swimmer for the coming year. The 22-year-old took down his three-year-old world record in the men’s 200 fly in front of his home crowd at the World Championships, clocking 1:50.34 to win gold by more than three seconds. He now owns the five-fastest swims of all-time, nine of the top 12, and the nine-fastest among active swimmers in the 200 fly. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Milak’s 200 fly performance in Budapest was that he was nowhere near satisfied. The Hungarian native also roared to a decisive gold medal in the 100 fly at Worlds in a time of 50.14, ranking #2 in the world behind Caeleb Dressel (50.01), who pulled out of the meet a few days earlier. Milak also dropped 46.8/1:44.6 freestyle relay splits in Budapest, and then showed more progress at the European Championships a few months later. In Rome, Milak swept the 100 and 200 fly, but also snagged silver in the 100 free in a time of 47.47, ranking him third in the world for the year, and he added a second blazing 800 free relay split as he anchored the Hungarian men to gold in 1:44.42. Milak is a lock for gold in the 200 fly, the favorite in the 100 fly (and maybe he could’ve been sub-50 last year, like he was in Tokyo, if Dressel was in the field), and has now put himself in a position to vie for two more medals in the freestyle events.

Read the full story on SwimSwam: SwimSwam’s Top 100 For 2023: Men’s #10-1

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