Skip to main content

What you've missed since London: Swimming

Swimmers Ryan Lochte, Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps
NBC Olympics

What you've missed since London: Swimming

Find out which Olympic swimmers return for the 2016 Games and which have retired.

Who's back

The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, retired after upping his total Olympic medal count to 22 at the 2012 London Olympics. During his time off, Phelps attended the 2013 World Championships as a spectator, visited the White House, played golf as part of the reality TV show "The Haney Project" and then quietly re-entered the drug testing pool, making him eligible for competition again, late in 2013. His competitive retirement ended in April 2014, when he raced in the Arena Pro Series at Mesa. He participated in 2014 Nationals and the Pan Pacific Championships. But on September 30, he was pulled over for speeding and arrested on drunken driving charges. He served 18 months' probation as well as a suspension from USA Swimming. He continued to train, and his first meet, again, was the Arena Pro Series in Mesa in 2015. As he was not eligible to participate in the 2015 World Championships as part of his punishment from USA Swimming, he competed at Nationals instead and clocked three of the fastest times in the world that year - his 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley times would have taken gold at Worlds.

Watch every Michael Phelps race from Sydney to Rio

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 23 gold medals, three silvers and two bronzes. See how he earned his medals.

Read More +

Missy Franklin earned four gold medals and a bronze at the London Games. In 2013, she dominated the world championships in Barcelona and captured six gold medals (200m freestyle, 200m backstroke and 100m backstroke, plus all three relays). She competed at the collegiate level for two years (2013-2015) at the University of California, Berkeley, racking up back-to-back NCAA titles in the 200-yard freestyle and another title in the 200-yard individual medley. She turned professional and gave up her NCAA eligibility after her sophomore year at Cal. At Pan Pacs in 2014, Missy struggled after experiencing back spasms and seemed off her form at the 2015 World Championships - however, she still bagged five medals (two gold) and became the woman with the most career World titles (11).

Who is... Missy Franklin

Missy Franklin took home five medals from the 2012 London Olympics, four of them gold.

Read More +

Coming off a solid performance at the London Olympics (two golds, two silvers and a bronze), Ryan Lochte took home another four medals from the 2013 World Championships. He found time to film the E! reality series, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" and guest star on shows like "30 Rock" and "90210." At the start of the 2013-14 season, Lochte moved from longtime training base Gainesville, Florida to SwimMAC Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina to train with David Marsh (who was later named the head coach of the 2016 U.S. Olympic women's team). In November 2013, an overeager fan jumped on Lochte and he tore his MCL and ACL, keeping him out of the pool for two months. He came back, admittedly too early, and reinjured himself. Later in summer 2014, he was still not in top form, suffering at Pan Pacs and the Short Course (25-meter) World Championships in the winter. But in 2015, Lochte became the second swimmer in history to capture four consecutive World titles in the same event: the 200m IM. The 2015 swim was the most controversial; he debuted a breaststroke-to-freestyle turn that featured him on his back, instead of his stomach, where he can kick off the wall faster. A month later, swimming's governing body, FINA, ruled the turn illegal for future competitions in the individual medley (more on that decision, below).

Nathan Adrian's breakout moment was winning the 100m freestyle gold medal at the 2012 Olympics by one one-hundredth of a second. He followed that up with a bronze in the same event at the 2013 World Championships, again up against Australia's James Magnussen (gold) and countryman Jimmy Feigen (silver). He made it onto the podium at the 2014 Pan Pacs in two events, winning a silver in the 100m free and a bronze in the 50m free. Adrian was seventh in the 100m free at the 2015 World Championships, but both captured the silver medal and broke the 6-year-old American record in the 50m free later in the meet.

By winning a single medal in Rio, Natalie Coughlin could become the single most-decorated U.S. female Olympic athlete. Coughlin won her 12th medal, a bronze, as part of the 4x100m freestyle relay in London. She is currently tied with U.S. swimmers Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres for the honor of most decorated U.S. female Olympians. In 2013, Coughlin split with longtime coach Teri McKeever, the coach of UC Berkeley's women's team, to train with Dave Durden, the coach of UC Berkley's men's team. She also slimmed down her repertoire to focus solely on the sprint freestyle events. At the 2013 World Championships, she was 11th in the 50m freestyle and earned a gold medal in the 4x100m freestyle relay. At the 2014 Nationals - the meet that decides the roster for the 2014 Pan Pacs and 2015 World Championships - Coughlin was hit with a bout of food poisoning, and failed to qualify for those competitions. Instead, she swam at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and captured a silver in the 100m freestyle and a bronze in the 50m free. Plus, Coughlin earned an unprecedented 60th international medal when the U.S. women won gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the Pan American Games. She hinted that the 100m backstroke, where she was the 2004 and 2008 gold medalist, may re-enter her 2016 lineup, as she has been using backstroke to complement her freestyle training.

Who's gone

Rebecca Soni retired soon after the London Games, where she won two golds (200m breast, 4x100m medley relay) and a silver (100m breast). Additionally, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Soni collected a gold medal in the 200m breast and silvers in the 100m breast and 4x100m medley relay.

After being known in high school as "the guy that shaved his legs," breaststroker Brendan Hansen went on to win three gold, one silver and two bronze medals over the course of three Olympic Games (2004, 2008 and 2012). He officially retired after competing in London. 

Peter Vanderkaay capped his swimming career with two gold medals (relays) and one individual bronze. As part of a swimming family, Peter trained under Bob Bowman at the University of Michigan. Bowman even named one of his racehorses "Vanderkaay" after the 2012 U.S. Olympic team captain's work ethic.

The legendary anchor of the 2008 men's 4x100m men's freestyle relay, Jason Lezak, retired after making his fourth Olympic appearance (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012). That relay swim made him the oldest gold medalist at an Olympics, and solidified his place in epic swimming showdown history.

Swimming 101

Learn more about swimming:

Basics | Competition format | Qualifying | Rules | Equipment | Olympic history | Glossary | Venue

Breakout stars

Katie Ledecky was the youngest USA swimmer in London and she came home with a gold medal in her only event, the 800m freestyle. Since then, she's dominated both the middle-distance and distance events. At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, she became the first-ever swimmer to capture golds in the 200m, 400m, 800m and non-Olympic 1500m freestyle events. The feat has become known as the "Ledecky Slam" and included breaking (her own) world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m events. Ledecky managed to break her 1500m freestyle record twice, once in the preliminary heats and again in the final. About a half an hour after winning the 1500m free final by almost 15 seconds, Ledecky raced in the 200m free semifinal to secure her place in the following day's final.

Michael Andrew became the youngest professional swimmer ever when he signed an endorsement deal at age 14. Now 17 years old and 6-6, he's eligible for eight individual events at Trials and hopes to qualify for his first Olympics. Andrew's dad Peter is his coach and they train in the two-lane pool Peter built in their backyard. He could be Team USA's youngest swimmer.

At the 2015 Pan American Games, Katie Meili broke the meet record in the 100m breast on her way to the title. She won three medals at the meet, two golds (100m breast, 4x100m medley relay) and a silver (4x100m freestyle relay). Later in the summer, she captured her first national title in the event (admittedly in a field that did not include some of the nation's top breaststrokers, who were at the world championships). She was nominated for USA Swimming's 2015 Golden Goggles Breakout Performer of the Year.

Q&A with Katie Meili

Katie Meili explains who her first swimming idol was, what it was like to compete alongside her and all about her famous pet.

Read More +

Hungary's Katinka Hosszu competed at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics, but never won a medal. However, she'll be coming into the Rio Olympics with four World Cup overall titles, four more world championship golds and the 200m individual medley world record, which she broke at 2015 Worlds.


Dana Vollmer captured gold in then-world record time in the 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics. She stepped away from the sport after Worlds in 2013 - but never retired - to give birth to her son, Arlen, in March 2015. By August she was competing again at nationals, and was clocking lifetime bests by April 2016. She maintains that swimming is her "hobby."

Major competitions

The highlight of the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia was the "Ledecky Slam." It is also notable that the U.S. team as a whole earned its fewest medals in 50 years, but they still topped the total medal count. Phelps, who was not at the event and swam at Nationals in San Antonio, Texas, instead, said he's never known a U.S. team who hasn't been dominant. 

Haley Anderson, 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the open water marathon, placed ninth in the 10k at Worlds in 2015. With that finish, she clinched a spot in the 10k at the Rio Olympics. Similarly, Jordan Wilimovsky and Sean Ryan clinched spots in Rio by finishing first and fourth, respectively, in the men's 10k at Worlds.

Phelps' performance at 2015 Nationals put the rest of the world on notice: he is not to be ignored. His 200m IM, 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly times would have won the world titles - instead, he settled for clocking the best times in the world in those events for 2015.

The quadrennial Pan American Games saw the United States top the medal table with 32 total medals (12 golds, 10 silvers and 10 bronzes). The women had a particularly impressive showing. Natalie Coughlin broke the Pan Am Games record in the 100m backstroke as the leading leg of the gold medal winning 4x100m medley relay and took home two individual medals (100m free silver and 50m free bronze). Caitlin Leverenz swept both the 200m and 400m IM events after a surprise disqualification from Canadian Emily Overholt in the 400m IM. Allison Schmitt took home gold medals and broke the Pan Am Games records in both the 200m and 800m free. It was her first international meet since 2012. Kelsi Worrell - who was representing the United States internationally for the first time - won the 100m butterfly. Katie Meili's golden 100m breaststroke swim served as her own breakout performance.

The 2014 Pan Pacs, in Gold Coast, Australia were again headlined by Katie Ledecky's record-breaking gold medal total: she became the first woman to sweep gold medals in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles - a feat she would later repeat at 2015 Worlds, a field that included Europeans (Pan Pacs do not include European countries). Ledecky's 200m and 800m finals were separated by about 50 minutes. Michael Phelps raced at the meet, claiming gold in the 100m butterfly (his first international race since the London Olympics), silver in the 200m IM and fourth in the 100m free.

Missy Franklin was the star of the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, taking home six gold medals - a American record - in the 100m back, 200m back, 200m free, 4x200m freestyle relay (with Katie Ledecky, Shannon Vreeland and Karlee Bispo), 4x100m freestyle relay (with Natalie Coughlin, Vreeland and Megan Romano) and the 4x100m medley relay (with Jessica Hardy, Dana Vollmer and Romano). Franklin was also fourth in the 100m freestyle. Ledecky set a new world record and claimed gold in the 800m and 1500m freestyle events. Ryan Lochte earned his third consecutive world title in the 200m IM. Michael Phelps attended the meet, but solely as a spectator.

Who is... Missy Franklin

Missy Franklin took home five medals from the 2012 London Olympics, four of them gold.

Read More +

Records broken since London

World records broken since the conclusion of the London Olympic Games:

Adam Peaty (GBR), 100m breaststroke: 57.92 - 2015 British National Championships

Akihiro Yamaguchi (JPN), 200m breaststroke: 2:07.01 - 2012 Japanese National Sports Festival

Katie Ledecky, 400m freestyle: 3:58.37 - 2014 Pan Pacs * also an American record

Katie Ledecky, 800m freestyle: 8:06.68 - 2016 Arena Pro Series in Austin * also an American record

Ruta Meilutyte (LTU), 100m breaststroke: 1.04:35 - 2013 World Championships

Rikke Moeller-Pederson (DEN), 200m breaststroke: 2:19.11 - 2013 World Championships

Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), 100m butterfly: 55.64 - 2015 World Championships

Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 200m IM: 2:06.12 - 2015 World Championships

Bronte Campbell, Melanie Schlanger, Emma McKeon, and Cate Campbell (AUS), 4x100m freestyle relay: 3:30.98 - 2014 Commonwealth Games

Q&A with Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky explains how she ignored Michael Jordan as a baby, how she got into swimming and how she swam even with a broken arm.

Read More +

American records broken since the conclusion of the London Olympic Games:

Nathan Adrian, 50m freestyle: 21.37 - 2015 World Championships

Connor Jaeger, 1500m freestyle: 14:41.20 - 2015 World Championships

Katie Ledecky, 400m freestyle: 3:58.37 - 2014 Pan Pacs

Katie Ledecky, 800m freestyle: 8:06.68 - 2016 Arena Pro Series in Austin

Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Shannon Vreeland, and Megan Romano, 4x100m freestyle relay: 3:32.31 - 2013 World Championships

Rule changes

Ryan Lochte, who became the first U.S. swimmer to win four consecutive World titles in a single event, won his fourth 200m individual medley title in 2015 through a controversial third turn. Lochte is faster in the water on his back than his stomach, he noted, before unveiling a new style of turn - where he pushes off the wall on his back, kicks to the legal limit of 15m and flips over to continue racing - in the 200m freestyle. In freestyle, the turn was interpreted as legal; however, completing the turn on the breaststroke-to-freestyle exchange was more controversial. He was not disqualified at Worlds, but FINA, swimming's governing body, ruled the turn invalid in the IM one month later. In freestyle, the turn in still legal and Lochte is expected to continue using it in that event.

Technological advances were made to improve backstroke starts - now, instead of possibly slipping on the start, a tiny wedge strip is used to keep swimmers' feet from sliding down the wall. Another advancement came to the aid of distance swimmers. Formerly, officials were the designated lap counters for the 800m (women's) and 1500m (men's) distances. Since London, electric underwater counters have been introduced.

What else to watch for in Rio

The Australian team continues to dominate internationally with no signs of slowing down. At the 2015 World Championships, Mitch Larkin and Emily Seebohm swept the men's and women's 100m and 200m backstroke events for Australia over the heavily favored Americans. Team USA's winning streak in the men's 200m backstroke spans 20 years of major international meets. Plus, sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell put up strong showings in the sprint freestyle events. Cam McEvoy grabbed a silver medal in the 100m freestyle at 2015 Worlds, and at the Australian Olympic Trials in April 2016, he demonstrated his versatility by winning the 50m, 100m and 200m events.

McEvoy, Campbell sisters headline Australian Olympic swim team roster

Cam McEvoy and the Campbell sisters spearhead a 34-strong team of Australian swimmers who automatically qualified for the 2016 Olympics.

Read More +

South Africa's Chad le Clos has made his opinions on his rivals clear, making sure to quip "I am not afraid of Michael Phelps" at seemingly every opportunity. The Olympic gold medalist claimed silver in the 200m butterfly and gold in the 100m butterfly at the 2015 World Championships.

One of the most hotly-debated names in swimming, China's Sun Yang, remains a podium threat in several of the men's events in Rio. He became China's first swimming gold medalist in 2012, winning the 1500m freestyle. During that race, he was nearly disqualified: the race starter attempted to quiet the audience, but Sun dove into the water. Despite the false start - which would mean an automatic disqualification - he was allowed to compete. In 2013, he was held in police detention for about a week for driving a Porsche without a license. The two-time Olympian served a controversial backdated three-month doping ban over the summer of 2014. He went on to compete without incident until the 2015 World Championships. The "Ledecky Slam" (winning a gold medal in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles in a single world championship) nearly was named for him - instead, he mysteriously withdrew from the 1500m without any prior notice, saying that his heart hurt. He was named the Male Swimmer of the Meet for the second time.

Swimming 101

Learn more about swimming:

Basics | Competition format | Qualifying | Rules | Equipment | Olympic history | Glossary | Venue


What you've missed since London

Choose a sport for a detailed look at what's changed since the 2012 Olympics drew to a close:

Archery | Badminton | Basketball | Beach Volleyball | Boxing | Canoe/Kayak | Cycling | Diving | Equestrian | Fencing | Field Hockey | Golf | Gymnastics | Handball | Judo | Modern Pentathlon | Rhythmic Gymnastics | Rowing | Rugby | Sailing | Shooting | Soccer | Swimming | Synchronized Swimming | Table Tennis | Taekwondo | Tennis | Track and Field | Trampoline | Triathlon | Volleyball | Water Polo | Weightlifting | Wrestling

More from {{firstLevel.more_from}}




See More Coverage

More from {{secondLevel.more_from}}



More from Olympics