The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Swimmers of all time. This list of famous American Swimmers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Swimmers.
With an HPI of 69.43, Mark Spitz is the most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 57 different languages on wikipedia.
Mark Andrew Spitz (born February 10, 1950) is an American former competitive swimmer and nine-time Olympic champion. He was the most successful athlete at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, winning seven gold medals, all in world record time. This was an achievement that lasted for 36 years until it was surpassed by fellow American Michael Phelps, who won eight golds at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Between 1968 and 1972, Spitz won nine Olympic golds, a silver, and a bronze, in addition to five Pan American golds, 31 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles and eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles. During those years, he set 35 world records, two of which were in trials and unofficial. Swimming World Magazine named him World Swimmer of the Year in 1969, 1971, and 1972. He was the third athlete to win nine Olympic gold medals.
With an HPI of 66.67, Duke Kahanamoku is the 2nd most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 28 different languages.
Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku (August 24, 1890 – January 22, 1968) (Native Hawaiian) was a competition swimmer who popularized the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing. He was born to a minor noble family toward the end of the Kingdom of Hawaii, just before the overthrow. He lived to see the territory's admission as a state, and became a United States citizen. He was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming, winning medals in 1912, 1920 and 1924.Kahanamoku joined fraternal organizations: he was a Scottish Rite Freemason in the Honolulu lodge, and a Shriner. He worked as a law enforcement officer, an actor, a beach volleyball player, and a businessman.
With an HPI of 65.91, Michael Phelps is the 3rd most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 94 different languages.
Michael Fred Phelps II (born June 30, 1985) is an American former competitive swimmer. He is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (23), Olympic gold medals in individual events (13), and Olympic medals in individual events (16). When Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, he broke fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Phelps already tied the record of eight medals of any color at a single Games by winning six gold and two bronze medals. At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four gold and two silver medals, and at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he won five gold medals and one silver. This made him the most successful athlete of the Games for the fourth Olympics in a row.Phelps is the long course world record holder in the men's 400-meter individual medley as well as the former long course world record holder in the 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, and 200-meter individual medley. He has won 82 medals in major international long course competitions, of which 65 were gold, 14 silver, and three bronze, spanning the Olympics, the World Championships, and the Pan Pacific Championships. Phelps's international titles and record-breaking performances have earned him the World Swimmer of the Year Award eight times and American Swimmer of the Year Award eleven times, as well as the FINA Swimmer of the Year Award in 2012 and 2016. Phelps earned Sports Illustrated magazine's Sportsman of the Year award due to his unprecedented Olympic success in the 2008 Games. After the 2008 Summer Olympics, Phelps started the Michael Phelps Foundation, which focuses on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthier lifestyles. Phelps retired following the 2012 Olympics, but he made a comeback in April 2014. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, his fifth Olympics, he was selected by his team to be the flag bearer of the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations. He announced his second retirement on August 12, 2016, having won more medals than 161 countries. He is widely regarded as the greatest swimmer of all time and is often considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time.
With an HPI of 64.24, Gertrude Ederle is the 4th most famous American Swimmer. Her biography has been translated into 26 different languages.
Gertrude Caroline Ederle (October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was an American competition swimmer, Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in five events. On August 6, 1926, she became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Among other nicknames, the press sometimes called her "Queen of the Waves."
With an HPI of 61.32, Don Schollander is the 5th most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.
Donald Arthur Schollander (born April 30, 1946) is an American former competition swimmer, five-time Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in four events. He won a total of five gold medals and one silver medal at the 1964 and 1968 Summer Olympics. With four gold medals, he was the most successful athlete at the 1964 Olympics.
With an HPI of 60.89, Ann Curtis is the 6th most famous American Swimmer. Her biography has been translated into 20 different languages.
Ann Cuneo (March 6, 1926 – June 26, 2012) was an American competition swimmer and two-time Olympic champion. Ann Elisabeth Curtis was born in San Francisco, California, and began swimming at the age of 9 under the teaching of nuns while she and her sister spent two years at the Ursuline Convent boarding school in Santa Rosa. Eventually, she began training under Charlie Sava as a member of the San Francisco Crystal Plunge swimming club. In 1944, at age 18, she became the first woman, as well as the first swimmer, to receive the coveted James E. Sullivan Award, recognizing her as the outstanding American amateur athlete of the year.Curtis competed at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, England, winning a medal in every freestyle swimming race in which women were allowed to enter at the time. She won her first gold medal in the women's 400-meter freestyle, setting an Olympic record on the way to winning by a margin of nearly four seconds. In her next race, she received the silver medal for her second-place finish in the women's 100-meter freestyle, a disappointing finish for her. She would later say she felt like she "had let down the world."However, her favorite moment of the Games came during the third event, when she won her second gold medal as a member of the women's 4×100-meter freestyle relay team. The United States was not favored to win, in part because she had placed second in the 100-meter individual event. When she took the water for the anchor leg in the relay, the United States team was in third place; she passed Johanna "Hannie" Termeulen of Holland and then Fritze Carstensen of Denmark to win the gold medal for the US by four-tenths of a second, setting another Olympic record in the process. When she returned to San Francisco, she was honored in a parade along Market Street.During her career she set five world and 56 U.S. records. By the time she swam at the 1948 London Games, Curtis was engaged to be married to Gordon Cuneo, a former basketball player for Cal; they were married in 1949, and she chose not to train for the 1952 Games, also in part because she had accepted a car from the City of San Francisco upon her return from London, which made her a professional swimmer.In 1959, after retiring from the sport, she opened the Ann Curtis Swim Club and School of Swimming with her husband. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966, and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. Curtis died at her home in San Rafael, California on June 26, 2012, aged 86.
With an HPI of 59.98, Ethelda Bleibtrey is the 7th most famous American Swimmer. Her biography has been translated into 19 different languages.
Ethelda Marguerite Bleibtrey (February 27, 1902 – May 6, 1978), also known by her married name Ethelda Schlatke, was an American competition swimmer, three-time Olympic gold medalist, and former world record-holder in multiple events.Bleibtrey was a dominant backstroke swimmer, but entered and won gold medals in three freestyle events when there were no women's backstroke events at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. She won a gold medal as member of the winning U.S. team in the women's 4×100-meter freestyle relay, together with teammates Margaret Woodbridge, Frances Schroth and Irene Guest. The American relay team set a new world record of 5:11.6 in the event final. Individually, Bleibtrey also received gold medals and set world records in the women's 100-meter freestyle (1:13.6) and the women's 300-meter freestyle (4:34.0).She was born in Waterford, New York to John and Maggie Bleibtrey. She started swimming to help recover from polio, which she contracted in 1917. In 1919, she was arrested for "nude swimming" — she removed her stockings at a pool where it was forbidden to bare "the lower female extremities for public bathing." The subsequent public support for Bleibtrey led to the abandonment of stockings as a conventional element in women's swimwear.Bleibtrey was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1967. She died in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1978.
With an HPI of 59.68, Charles Daniels is the 8th most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.
Charles Meldrum Daniels (March 24, 1885 – August 9, 1973) was an American competition swimmer, eight-time Olympic medalist, and world record-holder in two freestyle swimming events. Daniels was an innovator of the front crawl swimming style, inventing the "American crawl".Daniels began his swimming career with the New York Athletic Club in 1903. At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, Daniels became the first American to win an Olympic medal, winning gold medals in both the 220- and 440-yard freestyle races. Four years later, at the 1908 Olympics in London, Daniels won gold in the 100-meter freestyle.Daniels was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1965.
With an HPI of 58.66, George Kojac is the 9th most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.
George Harold Kojac (March 2, 1910 – May 28, 1996) was an American competition swimmer, two-time Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in two events. Kojac represented the United States at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. As a member of the winning U.S. team in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, he received a gold medal. Kojac and teammates Austin Clapp, Walter Laufer and Johnny Weissmuller set a new world record of 9:36.2 in the event final. Individually, he won another gold medal in the men's 100-meter backstroke with a second world record time of 1:08.2. He also finished fourth in the men's 100-meter freestyle in 1:00.8.Kojac was born to Ukrainian immigrants. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, and learned to swim in the East River in New York. In 1931 he graduated from the Rutgers University and missed the 1932 Olympics because of his studies at Columbia Medical School. During his swimming career Kojac set 23 world records. In 1968 he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
With an HPI of 58.56, Clarke Scholes is the 10th most famous American Swimmer. His biography has been translated into 19 different languages.
Clarke Currie Scholes (November 25, 1930 – February 5, 2010) was an American competition swimmer and Olympic champion. Scholes was awarded the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. His posted time of 57.4 seconds for the event matched that of fellow competitor Hiroshi Suzuki of Japan. Officials used a judge's decision and awarded Scholes the gold medal. He also won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley relay at the 1955 Pan American Games.In 1948, as a Redford High School senior, Scholes won Detroit City League titles in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. He attended Michigan State University, and swam for the Michigan State Spartans swimming and diving team in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competition. While under the direction of coach Charles McCaffree, Clarke was transformed into a five-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion in the 100-yard freestyle.Scholes was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1980. He was part of the inaugural class of thirty inductees into the Michigan State University Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, and he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
Pantheon has 116 people classified as swimmers born between 1885 and 1997. Of these 116, 90 (77.59%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living swimmers include Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, and Don Schollander. The most famous deceased swimmers include Duke Kahanamoku, Gertrude Ederle, and Ann Curtis. As of October 2020, 21 new swimmers have been added to Pantheon including Norman Ross, Jack Medica, and Eleanor Garatti.
1950 - Present
1985 - Present
1946 - Present
1965 - Present
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1890 - 1968
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1926 - 2012
1902 - 1978
1885 - 1973
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1924 - 2013
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1911 - 1964
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1895 - 1953
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1907 - 1979
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1928 - 1999
1913 - 2004
1957 - Present
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1969 - Present
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Which Swimmers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 24 most globally memorable Swimmers since 1700.