National Power Rankings: Which Country is Best in Women’s Swimming?
National Power Rankings: Which Country is Best in Women’s Swimming?
For decades, the United States has held the title of best swimming nation in the world, with the Americans securing the lead in medal count at most international competitions. Indeed, the U.S. won a record-setting 45 medals at this year’s World Championships in Budapest, but it’s worth noting that the meet was missing plenty of elite talent, including Olympic gold medalists Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon and Adam Peaty. Thus, the medal tally was somewhat deceiving, and calling either the American men or women truly dominant right now would be a stretch.
On the women’s side, that’s because Australia can absolutely claim to be the top nation right now, with superior teams in both freestyle relays and four different women who have secured individual gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics and/or this year’s Worlds. The Americans counter with a well-rounded lineup that earned medals in 12 out of 14 individual events this year in Budapest.
So it’s time to evaluate the Australia vs. U.S. matchup on the women’s side and also look beyond the top two for the power rankings of women’s swimming right now.
The star power of the team from Down Under combined with the aforementioned freestyle relay excellence makes Australia the choice for the No. 1 spot among women’s teams. The lineup includes McKeon, the veteran sprinter who last year became the first woman in any sport to win seven medals at a single Olympics, and Titmus, the world’s dominant middle-distance freestyler and now the world-record holder in the 400-meter race. Kaylee McKeown was the double Olympic backstroke champion and the top 200 backstroker in the world this year, and 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan claimed the 100 free world title this year while also posting the second-best time globally in the 200 free.
That’s four bona fide stars plus dynamite relays, and Australia also boasts individual World Championship medalists Lani Pallister, Jenna Strauch, Kiah Melverton and Meg Harris, and sprinter Shayna Jack could have joined that group if not for a freak hand injury in Budapest. Veteran Madi Wilson is an extremely reliable relay presence, and Brianna Throssell, Elizabeth Dekkers and Chelsea Hodges all won individual medals at the Commonwealth Games.
2. United States
There are few events where an American swimmer is the clear-cut choice as the world’s top performer, but the wealth of U.S. contenders across the board is impressive. Katie Ledecky, Torri Huske, Alex Walsh, Regan Smith and Lilly King were all individual world champions this year, with Ledecky recording her best time in four years in the 800 free, Huske emerging as a multi-event force for the U.S. with six medals and Walsh becoming the world’s dominant performer in the 200 IM. Meanwhile, a whopping 10 other swimmers won individual medals in Budapest.
Where America owns a huge advantage over any other nation is the ranks of young performers. Teenagers Claire Curzan, Katie Grimes and Leah Hayes all won individual medals in Budapest. Erin Gemmell, Bella Sims and Claire Weinstein all posted 200 free performances that make Australia’s hold on the 800 free relay tenuous at best. The potential scattered throughout this U.S. lineup gives the Americans a real chance to overtake the top spot in due course.
It’s pretty crazy that a nation with practically zero history of women’s swimming success prior to 2016 is now the clear-cut choice as third-best in the world. Canada joined Australia and the U.S. on the podium in two relays at the 2021 Olympics and then all three women’s relays plus the mixed 400 free at this year’s Worlds. Penny Oleksiak, who in 2016 became just the second-ever Canadian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, provided the anchor leg on all of those squads, and even with relay stud Kayla Sanchez departing to swim for the Philippines, Canada retains a strong core with 100 fly Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil, Kylie Masse and Taylor Ruck.
And then there’s Canada’s star, Summer McIntosh, who turned 16 last month. She is already the world’s best 400 IMer (by a long way) and 200 butterflyer, and she’s elite in the mid-distance freestyle races as well. In 2022, McIntosh captured 10 international medals, four at the World Championships and then six at the Commonwealth Games. Her rapid improvement is scary for the rest of the world, and it’s not inconceivable that she could push Katinka Hosszu’s previously-untouchable world record of 4:26.36 in the 400 IM.
This year was not as successful as 2021 for the Chinese team, with Zhang Yufei taking a step back from her gold-medal-winning form and China’s relays failing to win a medal at Worlds, but the fourth spot still makes a lot of sense, with a large gap back to No. 5. Even amid a disappointing meet, Zhang still won medals in all three butterfly events, and Yang Junxuan claimed the world title in the 200 free with teammate Tang Muhan third. Teenager breaststroker Tang Qianting showed plenty of potential, and two of China’s relays did end up fourth at the global meet.
Sarah Sjostrom has long since secured her legacy as one of the elite swimmers of this generation, and she bolstered those credentials with three medals at Worlds, including golds in the 50 fly and 50 free. Sjostrom was the only medalist for Sweden at Worlds, but sisters Louise and Sophie Hansson have developed into established international performers, having qualified for multiple finals at World Championships and Olympics. Sweden’s 400 medley relay finished less than a second off the podium in Budapest.
And the Swedish women are even better in short course. Six months earlier at the Short Course World Championships, Sweden actually won four relay medals (including two golds), while both Hansson sisters won individual medals (including gold for Louise in the 100 back).
Italy is less than one year removed from the retirement of one of the country’s all-time legendary swimmers, Federica Pellegrini, and the Italian women’s team cannot match the recent achievements of the men, but this is still a strong group. Benedetta Pilato was the world and European champion this year in the 100 breaststroke, and Italy actually has a collection of world-class breaststrokers with Martina Carraro, Arianna Castiglioni and Lisa Angiolini. Simona Quadarella and Margarita Panziera each won a pair of individual continental crowns this year. In a tight bunch of nations, Italy gets the nod.
The final spot on this list goes to the Netherlands by a slim margin over Great Britain. The Dutch would probably have finished higher on this list a year ago before two decorated sprinters, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Femke Heemskerk, stepped away from the sport. Marrit Steenbergen led the way for the Netherlands this year with four European gold medals (100 free, 200 free, 800 free relay, mixed 400 medley relay), while Kira Toussaint remains a world-class backstroker. The Dutch own top-three times in the world in all three women’s relays.