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Summer Olympics: Top ten female American swimmers in history

Throughout history, American women have had a ton of success and claimed a great number of Olympic swimming medals. There are many, many women who deserve to be included on a list of the best swimmers in U.S. history.

Natalie Coughlin
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Here are 10 of them, in alphabetical order:

Shirley Babashoff, freestyle: The International Swimming Hall of Fame website calls Shirley Babashoff "one of the great women freestylers of all time." During her Olympic career, Babashoff earned eight Olympic medals, two of which were gold. She earned the first gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games and the second at the 1976 Olympic Games. Each of her six silver medals were earned in 200-, 400- or 800-meter freestyle events. She set 11 world records during her career.

Sybil Bauer, backstroke: Sybil Bauer is called "the world's fist great backstroker" in her bio on the International Swimming Hall of Fame website. Bauer claimed gold in the 100-meter backstroke at the 1924 Olympic Games, and it is likely that she would have earned additional medals if more backstroke events had been contested at the games. During her short career, Bauer set 23 world records and held eight national and world records at the time of her death, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame website. Bauer died when she was 23.

Ethelda Bleibtrey, freestyle: Ethelda Bleibtrey was the first American woman to win Olympic swimming gold, and she's still the only American woman to win every swimming event at the Olympic Games. In 1920, she earned gold in the 100- and 300-meter freestyles as well as the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Bleibtrey also held world records in backstroke events, though she was unable to swim backstroke at the Olympics because women's backstroke was not part of the swimming program in 1920.

Tracy Caulkins, individual medley: Tracy Caulkins won the 200- and 400-meter individual medley events at the 1984 Olympic Games, and she added a gold medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay, as well. Caulkins also was a member of the 1980 Olympic team that didn't compete due to a U.S. boycott. There are those who believe that Caulkins would have won more Olympic medals had she had the opportunity to compete in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. Caulkins was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award, which is given to the best amateur athlete in the United States, when she was just 15 years old.

Natalie Coughlin, backstroke, freestyle, individual medley: Natalie Coughlin already has earned 12 Olympic medals, and she's not done yet. Coughlin, who competed in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, is one of the most versatile female swimmers in U.S. history, and her medal count ties her with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the most decorated female swimmers in American history.

Gertrude Ederle, freestyle: American Gertrude Ederle is perhaps most commonly remembered for becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel. Before that remarkable feat, though, Ederle became an Olympic champion at the 1924 Games. There, she won gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, and she added two bronze medals in the 100 and 400 freestyle events. She set 29 national and world records during her career, and in 1926 Ederle became the first woman to cross the English Channel. She did so in a time faster than any male before her.

Janet Evans, freestyle individual medley: Janet Evans competed in three Olympic Games and won four Olympic gold medals during her career. In 1988, she won gold in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles and the 400-meter individual medley. Four years later, she added another gold in the 800 freestyle and a silver in the 400 freestyle. Evans also participated at the 1996 Olympic Games, though she did not earn a medal. During her career, Evans set world records in the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events, and each record would go on to stand for more than 15 years.

Claudia Kolb, breaststroke, individual medley: Claudia Kolb swam breaststroke and individual medley events at the 1964 and 1968 Olympic Games. In 1964, she earned a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke when she was just 14, and in 1968 she added gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley events. Kolb was named the "World Swimmer of the Year" in 1967. She set 23 world records during her career.

Debbie Meyer, freestyle: "Debbie Meyer, between the ages of 14 and 18, was the world's greatest female swimmer," according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame website. At the 1968 Olympic Games, Meyer became the first female swimmer to win three individual gold medals at a single Olympic Games. She did so by earning the top spot in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events. She was named "World Swimmer of the Year" three times, and she was given the James E. Sullivan Award in 1968.

Jenny Thompson, relays: When Jenny Thompson retired from Olympic competition in 2004, she was the most decorated female swimmer of all time. During the course of four Olympic Games, Thompson amassed 12 Olympic medals, eight of which were relay gold. She twice won individual medals in the 100 freestyle as well -- in 1992 she claimed silver, and in 2000 she earned bronze. In 1988, she was named the "World Swimmer of the Year."

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