The Greatest Backstroke Swimmers of All-Time: Roland Matthes and Krisztina Egerszegi

I have chosen who I think are the top five men and top five women backstroke swimmers in history.


The top two are clear of the others but choosing between them as number one was quite difficult.  I just opted for Matthes as he was so consistent over both 100m and 200m for such a long period of time.

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1. Roland Matthes (GDR) -the winner of both the 100m and 200m titles at the Olympics of 1968 and 1972. He was also winner of both events at the inaugural world championships in 1973 and at the European championships in 1970 and 1974. He won the world 100m title again in 1975 and was unbeaten for seven years from 1967 to 1974 in any backstroke race. He held the world record at the 100m for nearly nine years from 1967 and world bests and records in the 200m for nearly nine years setting seven marks at 100m and nine at 200m.  As a GDR swimmer there will be questions over his performances but he was dominant before the drugs programme was established and may have been clean throughout his career.

2. Aaron Peirsol (USA) – winner of seven world backstroke titles between 2001 and 2009 including both titles in 2003 and 2005. He did the double at the 2004 Olympics retaining the 100m title in 2008. He won five Pan-Pacific golds in backstroke from 2002 to 2010. He set six world records at 100m and has held the world record for all but one week since 2004. At 200m he set seven world records from 2002 holding the current record since 2009.

It was all quite close for the next three spots with two swimmers, Igor Polyansky and Rick Carey, just missing out.  I am open to suggestions here as I am not fixed in my views on the order.  I gave the final spot to Lopez Zubero for his longevity at the top.

3. Lenny Krayzelburg (USA) – double champion at 100 and 200m at the world championships in 1998, Olympics in 2000m and Pan-Pacs in 1997 and 1999. He set world records at 50m, 100m and 200m events.

4. –Ryan Lochte (USA)  a great all-round swimmer but at backstroke is a 200m specialist who won golds at the world championships in 2007,2011and 2013 , Olympics in 2008 and Pan-Pacs in 2010. He set two world records at the 200m.

5. – Martin Zubero (Spain) winner of the Olympic 200m gold in 1992 and world champion at 200m in 1991 and 100m in 1994.  He won five European titles between 1989 and 1997.  He set two world records at 200m holding the record for eight years.


The great Krisztina Egerszegi is slightly ahead of closely matched Coventry and Coughlin who at the moment are ahead of Franklin, although that could change.  Fifth place is quite closely fought with Ulrike Richter of the GDR having good claims were it not for the fact that GDR performances from the era have to be treated with some scepticism.  I therefore went for Belote.

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1. Krisztina Egerszegi (Hungary) – the Olympic champion at 200m at each Games from 1988 when she was 14, until 1996.  She is one of only two women to win the same swimming event at three Games.  In 1992 she also won the 100m title.  She also did the 100m200m double at the 1991 world championships.  She also won five European titles at backstroke and at the 1991 Europeans set world records in both events.  Her 200m record was one of the greatest swims in history and stood as a world record for more than 16 years.  She was named world swimmer of the year three times and also won numerous medals at other events.

2. Kirsty Coventry (Zimbabwe) – the winner of two Olympic golds and two world golds from 2004 to 2009 at 200m.  She added the 100m title at the 2005 world championships.  She won five All-Africa Games golds at backstroke and is the greatest ever female swimmer from Africa.  She has set four world records at backstroke in her career.

3. Natalie Coughlin (USA) – A great freestyle swimmer as well, at backstroke she was a specialist at 100m where she was Olympic champion in 2004 and 2008 and world champion in 2005.  he also won the Pan-Pacific and world short course titles at 100m.  She set five world backstroke records in her career.

4. Missy Franklin (USA) – she did the double in the 100m and 200m at both the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World championships.  he had won the 100m title at the 2011 world championships aged 16.  She is the current world record holder for the 200m, a record she set in 2012.  She was FINA world swimmer of the year in both 2011 and 2012.

5. Melissa Belote (USA) – Olympic champion at 100m and 200m in 1972.  She added the world 200m title in 1973.  She set three world records at the 200m.

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