On Second Thought, Woodhead Should Have Earned Nod

During the past week, we offered a look at all-time squads for the United States and the commentary which followed has been tremendous. Some of it has echoed the decisions which were made. Some argued for different individuals to be named to the all-time American team, with reasoning provided as support. Through this process, I’ve come to the conclusion that one athlete in particular was overlooked.

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During the past week, we offered a look at all-time squads for the United States and the commentary which followed has been tremendous. Some of it has echoed the decisions which were made. Some argued for different individuals to be named to the all-time American team, with reasoning provided as support. Through this process, I’ve come to the conclusion that one athlete in particular was overlooked.



Ah… I am falling in love further with this site

Lane Four

Nothing against Allison or even Debbie Meyer, but Cynthia really was much more dominant over the long haul. At 13-years-of age she was ranked third in the world behind two East Germans and the following year beats Barbara Krause to win the world title with a WR. Ok, I won’t go into the stats because everyone probably already knows them. The point is that I am so happy to see Sippy get her due. Thanks, John.

John Lohn

Thanks aswimfan. One of the great parts of sports is the ability to go back and forth with others and to take a step back and re-evaluate based on suggestions or ideas. I feel we have that here.


Cheers John for giving it more thought and re-evaluating your initial placements. I change my mind often when I consider these ranking discussions. Three of the swimmers have strong arguments: Babashoff, Schmitt, and Woodhead. Meyer did the triple back in 1968 and that was an impressive feat but the 200 freestyle was a brand new Olympic event and unlike with Schollander it was far from her best event. Although obviously she was good enough to be the best in the world that year. But edging two compatriots by a half second isn’t really the sort of dominance that Woodhead displayed in her prime. Nor had a decade long legacy and history been built up in this like was when Woodhead smashed the world record. Doing 1:58s in the 200 freestyle is pretty incredible in the late 70s. Still respectable times even today considering that 1:58s were good enough for gold in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 games. Incredibly her age group record lasted 30 YEARS until broken by Knutson in a poly suit.


Brilliant diplomacy AND honesty is leading this website. I agree with aswimfan, I, too, am falling further in love with this website.

mister clive

Excellent, excellent, excellent decision to put Woodhead in there and an honorable, respectable decision to do it publicly. Your point about her being overlooked purely because of a cheap, miscalculated, stupid political ploy brings home again the crass disregard that politicians have for their constituents. Your point that it still has repercussions more than 30 years later should be tattooed on every politicians forehead! (And Criag, the editing is still frustrating!) (Ha ha – that typo was not deliberate but I’m sure you get the point)

mister clive

The article jiggled my synapses while trying to break the back of a mid-term assignment for Uni which concerns strategy. This is what I came up with:

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The President of the USA, Jimmy Carter, sought to bring pressure to bear on the Soviets by withdrawing the USA team from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. When I type that 33 years later it is head-shaking just how naïve that strategy was: why would non-participation in a sporting event force, persuade or even influence a country to withdraw from an already in-motion war? That idiotic decision – this is a carefully crafted opinion after due reflection – had no effect on the Soviets but did irreparable and long-lasting harm to at least two generations of American youth. Politicians and military types can be brought to task for a war crime but there is surely a case for labeling this decision a crime of the social sciences.


i don’t understand why babashoff was penned in the number one slot so quickly?

she was never really truly dominant. if you 100% discount ender she would have had an Olympic gold and a silver, but she was not dominant like Schmitt was.

She set 3 WR, but all three of them lasted a total of 13 months. Her first WR was smashed by Shane Gould, and after that she broke the record and tied it, but only by a couple of tenths in an era where records could be broken by a second and raised eye brows would be the only response. In ’76 she improved her best time (but was of course beaten by Ender) but despite going 2:01, she only was 2 tenths faster than the bronze (de facto silver) medalist.

If Schmitt medals in 2016 I would take her accomplishments (a gold and a medal, and winning the Olympic Games by almost 2 seconds) over a silver and what maybe should have been a gold

John Lohn

We can’t assume anything with Schmitt. If she does perform superbly in 2016, then that will be the time to reflect. We have to go by what we have in hand at the moment. Babashoff won her 1975 world title by more than a second over the bronze medalist, discounting the East German doping regime which earned silver. Her three world records, while primarily brief, have to be weighed in regard to the doping she faced from others. Her portfolio is tremendous.

Clive Rushton

Not arguing against Babashoff (who deserves a very special category of her own after the injustices she endured) but I have to say my personal pick for the top outstanding swim from all events in London was Schmitt.


Coming from the school of thought that you’re only as good as your best time in a global final, and not terribly impressed by longevity/repeat performances (both easily denied to athletes suffering sudden career-ending injury etc.), I for one cannot look beyond Schmitt (London) and Franklin (Barcelona) for top two.

Unfair as it may be, Meyer, Babashoff and Woodhead, whilst best-evers in their eras, have long since ceased being “top of the leaderboard”, so to speak. Tho I certainly admire their performances in context, sadly there’s no guarantee, given modern training methods, that they’d beat the times posted by my top 2. We can say (i.e. hope) there’s a likelihood they would have, but that’s not the same as actual PROOF. They simply never went that fast.

Schmitt and Franklin have, making them competitive in any championship fields you could care to hypothesize (as of 2013). And yes, should any swimmers go quicker in coming years (likely, but again not a given… until it happens), then Allison and Missy will themselves fall out of my top 2. Simple as.

[Hoff currently quicker all-time than Franklin @ higher-value Olympics, but in an LZR]

Don’t shoot me! 😉

Clive Rushton

Sorry, you get shot. Context does have a place.


*Falls to floor clutching chest* lol

Yes it does, Clive. And like I say, I have no problem enjoying their swims with the knowledge of where the sport was at (watched YT vids of 60s/70s/80s Olympiads many times, and I’ve never once been bored!). However the point still stands.

How can you continue being top 2, either globally or in this case nationally, if subsequent athletes go quicker (for whatever reasons)? Conversely if Meyer/Babashoff/Woodhead still boasted the fastest times then I’d have no problem with them remaining top 2/3 after 30+ years. None whatsoever.

But they don’t.

Reason I no longer have, say, Lewis and Burrell as top 2 US 100m sprinters at world level. Not a case of me picking on them (or any elite athlete ftm), just facing the reality that, ultimately, they got surpassed. First by Greene, then later by Gatlin/Gay.

Still I accept I’m probably in the extreme minority with my opinion. Fair play.



this is an exercise in “ALL TIME SQUAD”, and not “THE LATEST FASTEST SWIMMERS”.


As great as Schmitt’s performance in London, her swimming career so far has been very uneven:

2008: failing to final in Beijing
2009: silver in Rome
2010: gold in Irvine
2011: 6th in Shanghai
2012: gold in London
2013: failing to qualify for Barcelona

If she wins in Kazan and/or Rio, then yes she’d be the absolute first pick, but until then I think she has chance against Babashoff for second pick (I absolutely put Woodhead as first pick for her 1978-1982 dominance).



If a swimmer goes a particular time in a global final, even if just once, then they had the ability to go that time. Why must Schmitt replicate that performance/form-level in order to be acknowledged for what she was in London i.e. the best there’s ever been?

If she retired tomorrow without doing anything else, she’d still be “top of the leaderboard” in that you could’ve put any US, or World, swimmer at any point in their careers (textile) alongside her and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome…….. Allison touches first every time.

No need for further evidence of her worth; it’s right there in the 1:53.61! Same for Franklin and her 1:54.81.

Make no mistake: Were any women from 30, 50, or even 100 years ago to still hold quicker times, they WOULD be top of my list. Just happens that the best-ever swimmers come from recent years, that’s all. Era bias/dismissal isn’t necessary (if that’s what you implied, apologies if I’m wrong).

Lane Four

JMott76, this isn’t about fastest time but about HISTORY. If it was about fastest time then history wouldn’t matter….in any event. Who would care about Roman dominance…or the British Empire from over a century ago…..it would all be meaningless. But, since this IS about HISTORY, you must look at all eras and not just the current and fastest one. Using your line of thinking, who should care about DaVinci or Picasso or Mozart or Beethoven? Why bother looking at their art or listening to their music….it is OLD and irrelevant. Today is about the great rappers and hip-hop artists. Today is about Pitt and Jolie. Today is about Obama. Today is about today. Right. Who cares about George Washington….Caesar…..Napoleon….Elizabeth I…..none of them are relevant because they aren’t current. Current is all that matters. Now. Right now. Now is what’s happening. Not yesterday. Who cares about the Gettysburg Address when we have Snookie! Who cares about the Magna Carta when we have People Magazine. After all, it is all about NOW NOW NOW…..NEW NEW NEW….. I agree with ASwimfan 100%. Learn to become a student of history and then maybe you will appreciate who is current NOW because without the poast greats, the stars of today would not be here.



you are missing the point altogether.

So, using your logic, and by your book:

– Cate Campbell is the greatest 100 female freestyler of ALL TIME. Who cares about Dawn Fraser’s 3 straight oly golds and holding WR continuously for more than 15 years.
– Dana Vollmer, Alicia Coutts, Sarah Sjoestrom, Inge Dekker, Jeanette Ottesen, Ying Lu, Jessicah Schipper, Libby Trickett, Stephanie Rice, Ellen Gandy, Ilaria Bianchi, Claire Donahue, Fransesca Halsall, Christine Magnusson, Jiao Liuyang, Yuka Kato, Liu Zige, Katerine Savard, Terese Alshammar, Jenny Thompson, Inge De Bruijn, Nathalie Coughlin, Dara Torres are ALL GREATER FEMALE 100 FLYER THAN MARY T. MEAGHER.

Case closed.


I guess Jmott76 believes that the greatest female butterflyer of all time is Liu Zige.

Mary. T. who?? Meager who??


Lane Four

Fair enough and I’m not wumming, honest! Perhaps I’m guilty of approaching “all-time” from a purely 2013 perspective? If we’re having this discussion in 1983, Woodhead (Berlin) and Babashoff (Montreal) are my top 2, no doubt. Guess I view whoever occupies these spots at any given point to be temporary custodians, held only for as long as nobody goes quicker (same as WR holders). But that may just be my time-obsessed mind…. 😉

> Don’t for one moment think past performers aren’t relevant. Mostly listening to same artists I was 15/20 years ago. Reason? They set standards that, IMO, haven’t been topped (or equalled) since. Should any new artists arrive to truly, obviously surpass them to my ears, it won’t ever stop me listening to my old faves. However at same time I’ll have to try (very!) hard not to continue holding them up as the touchstone of all quality, which they’ll have ceased to be.

Tend to apply same thinking to any measureable sports. Lot more difficult with something like boxing, say, or MMA, where there’s so many variables as to make it highly preferential/subjective predicting who’d win in hypotheticals, or who should be rated higher all-time. Damn near impossible in fact! But I digress.

Anyhow, time I bow out of this one….

… and perhaps get some therapy LOL



My opinion on Mary T., as relating to 200 fly:


Think I was pretty respectful in my comment, but you be the judge.

[Apologies for any offence taken. All about the debate for me, whether right or wrong (and I don’t say I’m always right)]

Lane Four

I thought that the “debate” was a good one. No one was unkind. Each one stating their own thoughts and beliefs but other than that all for good. 🙂



I never said you disrespected Mary T. Meagher.

All I only did was to show that -in your book-, Mary T. Meager is not in all time line up, not in 100 fly, not in 200 fly.

another example which I may take from your book:
Kylie Palmer, Melanie Costa, Bronte Barratt are all greater 400 freestylers than Janet Evans.


Oh why did I stop there…

Tim Phillips is a much greater flyer than Mark Spitz.


And I’ve been faster than Johnny Weissmuller, so… 😉


to JMott

You present a very interesting argument. However, I believe your views to be flawed in a number of ways

—–To start, you base your all-time rankings based on a swimmer’s top time in a championship final. You reason that if Schitty went 1:53 then she’s a 1:53 swimmer and that’s all she never needs.

Your approach is solely time-based and doesn’t account for racing. If time is all that matters is time (because you said then they “have the ability”) then why does it have to be in a global final? If Michael Andrew got some FINA judges and swam 21.1 and 47.0 in his backyard pool would be be the best sprinter ever?

—–Secondly, you don’t believe in doubles or multiple performances.

This analogy is from a different sport, but I think it will hold. Edwin Moses won 122 straight 400m hurdles races, including 2 Olympic golds and 2 WC golds. Even today, almost 40 years after his first Olympic gold medal he has 24 out of the 98 fastest performances EVER. In the history of the event, 1 in four of those epic performances was done by one man. However his WR was broken in 1992 by Kevin Young. Young is obviously an all time great, seeing as no one has matched his time and he won the Olympics and worlds. But I would take the incredible dominance and consistency of Edwin Moses over the WR holder any day of the week. Some of competing and racing is not just being able to put together that one transcendent performance, it’s about being consistent and swimming all-time top times again and again. In the same vein I would take Gyurta (2nd and 3rd fastest time ever) or Yamaguchi in the 200 breast

—–Finally, you assert that times are a totally impartial way of comparing people across history

Is Joseph Schooling’s 200 fly time better than Mark Spitz’s? Absolutely. Is he better? Absolutely not! If you put Spitz in a half-drag suit speedo in the ’72 Olympics pool (and it’s associated blocks and lane lines) without googles he would probably swim a time that would be respectable for women

Even more recently, you can see that modern swimmers have advantages. In 2000 the gold medal winning 50 free time was 21.98. Manadou won in a time of 21.34 in 2012. I suppose it would be totally reasonable to say Florent was faster, he after all swam a better time by .64. However when I compared the results I detected patterns. The Sydney bronze medalist .44 slower. The 8th place time was .53 slower than it’s counterpart. The 16th spot in the prelims was won in London by a time .53 faster than in 2000.

I can think of two explanations
A) Swimmers of today happen to be about 50 hundredths faster than swimmers back then, and each swimmer happens to be about that much faster than his counterpart
B) Modern swimmers have the same skill level and depth as yester-years’s, but advances in technology and/or training make swimmers about .50 faster (personally I think this is more statistically likely)

One final point: Mr. Anthony Ervin
He won gold in Sydney in a time of 21.98, and also competed in London. At Barcelona in 2013 he went 21.42, or 56 hundredths faster.

Again I can think of two explanations
A) Despite being 13 years older, Ervin managed to swim a lightyear faster because he is a physiological marvel who doesn’t age
B) Ervin is taking advantage of improved technology and/or training that lets him swim about 50 hundredths faster, which just coincidentally is how much faster the world seems to have improved since 2000


With 24 hours’ reflection I’ve come to conclusion that, to quote John above:

“Guess what? I was wrong” (!)

Not in terms of not having my facts straight, but of being far too narrow-minded.

You all make good points and whilst I maintain that going by quickest global time is *A* valid way of rating swimmers all-time (one I’ve promoted in discussions with Youtubers many times and will likely continue doing), it clearly isn’t the *ONLY* valid way. Not by a long stretch.

Plenty to think about/widen perspective, and I HATE opening my mind for anything… lol

Ultimately a fan – all eras – and wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t, but in myopically arguing for that one thought process I’ve a): inadvertantly given impression I don’t rate non-current athletes, and b): risked detracting from what is a humble, well written piece from Mr. Lohn; a true pro who knows more about the history than I ever will. Good Sir, I salute you *takes bow*

[Note to self: “Next. Time. Just. Don’t.”]



Very very well argued. Daaaaamn…. Feel like I’ve had my ass handed to me worse than Muffat against Schmitt in that 200 final!!

Not first time, and probably won’t be the last. Congratulations…. hahaha 🙂

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