A 59 Second Drop? The Progression of the Women’s 1500 Freestyle World Records

At the Toronto stop of the 2022 FINA World Cup, Katie Ledecky shattered the SCM women’s 1500 freestyle world record. It was her first time swimming the event, but that didn’t seem to matter: she threw down a 15:08.24, breaking Sarah Kohler‘s 2019 mark of 15:18.01 by almost ten seconds.

As impressive as that is–especially since en-route, Ledecky shattered the American record in the 800 freestyle–it isn’t even close to the biggest drop on the progression of women’s 1500 freestyle world records.

In the long course event, the world record was set at 25:06.06 in 1922. Since then, it’s been broken 44 times and is currently held by Ledecky herself in 15:20.48.  Let’s take a look at how the record got there.

World Record Progression – Women’s LCM 1500 Freestyle

# Time Time Difference From Old Mark (seconds) Name Nationality Date
1 25:06.06 Helen Wainwright United States 8/19/1922
2 24:07.06 59.00 Ethel McGary United States 12/31/1925
3 24:00.02 7.04 Edith Mayne Great Britain 9/15/1926
4 23:44.06 15.56 Martha Norelius United States 7/8/1927
5 22:36.07 40.55 Grete Frederiksen Denmark 7/15/1931
6 21:45.07 51.00 Ragnhild Hveger Denmark 7/3/1938
7 21:10.01 35.06 Ragnhild Hveger Denmark 8/11/1940
8 20:57.00 13.01 Ragnhild Hveger Denmark 8/20/1941
9 20:46.05 10.55 Lenie de Nijs Netherlands 7/23/1955
10 20:22.08 23.57 Jans Koster Netherlands 8/21/1956
11 20:03.01 19.07 Jans Koster Netherlands 7/27/1957
12 19:25.07 37.54 Ilsa Konrads Australia 1/13/1960
13 19:23.06 2.01 Jane Cederqvist Sweden 9/8/1960
14 19:02.08 20.58 Margareta Rylander Sweden 10/27/1961
15 18:44.00 18.08 Carolyn House United States 8/16/1962
16 18:30.05 13.55 Patty Caretto United States 7/30/1964
17 18:23.07 6.58 Patty Caretto United States 8/12/1965
18 18:12.09 10.58 Patty Caretto United States 8/21/1966
19 18:11.01 1.08 Debbie Meyer United States 7/9/1967
20 17:50.02 20.59 Debbie Meyer United States 8/20/1967
21 17:31.02 19.00 Debbie Meyer United States 8/21/1968
22 17:19.09 11.53 Debbie Meyer United States 8/17/1969
23 17:19.02 .07 Cathy Calhoun United States 8/28/1971
24 17:00.06 18.56 Shane Gould Australia 12/12/1971
25 16:56.09 3.57 Shane Gould Australia 2/11/1973
26 16:54.14 1.55 Jo Harshbarger United States 8/25/1973
27 16:49.09 5.05 Jennifer Turrall Australia 12/9/1973
28 16:48.02 1.07 Jennifer Turrall Australia 1/9/1974
29 16:43.04 4.58 Jennifer Turrall Australia 7/13/1974
30 16:39.03 4.01 Jennifer Turrall Australia 8/3/1974
31 16:33.09 5.54 Jennifer Turrall Australia 8/25/1974
32 16:25.00 8.09 Alice Browne United States 8/21/1977
33 16:15.33 9.27 Tracey Wickham Australia 2/8/1978
34 16:07.03 8.30 Tracey Wickham Australia 2/25/1979
35 16:04.49 2.14 Kim Linehan United States 8/19/1979
36 16:01.13 3.36 Janet Evans United States 7/31/1987
37 15:52.10 9.03 Janet Evans United States 3/26/1988
38 15:42.54 9.16 Kate Ziegler United States 6/17/2007
39 15:36.53 6.01 Katie Ledecky United States 7/30/2013
40 15:34.23 2.30 Katie Ledecky United States 6/19/2014
41 15:28.36 5.47 Katie Ledecky United States 8/24/2014
42 15:28.11 .25 Katie Ledecky United States 8/3/2015
43 15:25.48 2.23 Katie Ledecky United States 8/4/2015
44 15:20.48 5.00 Katie Ledecky United States 5/16/2018

The biggest time drop is the first one, when Ethel McGary smashed Wainwright’s world record by 59 seconds. McGary is an American Olympian, who swam the 400 free at the 1928 Olympics.

There have been several double-digit drops, and the last one came in 1971, when Shane Gould swam 17:00.06, taking 18.56 seconds off the mark. In fact, the average time drop for the women’s LCM 1500 freestyle record is 12.79 seconds.

There’s significantly less data for the SCM edition of the race, as it wasn’t raced until 1982. In this version of the race, Ledecky taking 9.37 seconds off the record is the biggest drop of all-time. She narrowly passes Kate Ziegler‘s mark; in 2007, Ziegler hacked 9.09 seconds off the record with a 15:33.30.

World Record Progression – Women’s SCM 1500 Freestyle

# Time Time Difference From Old Mark (seconds) Name Nationality Date
1 15:43.31 Petra Schneider East Germany 1/10/1982
2 15:42.39 .92 Laure Manaudou France 11/20/2004
3 15:33.30 9.09 Kate Ziegler United States 10/12/2007
4 15:29.05 4.25 Lotte Friis Denmark 11/29/2009
5 15:27.35 1.30 Mireia Belmonte Spain 11/29/2013
6 15:23.08 4.27 Lauren Boyle New Zealand 8/9/2014
7 15:20.11 2.57 Mireia Belmonte Spain 12/12/2014
8 15:18.01 2.10 Sarah Köhler Germany 11/19/2019
9 15:08.24 9.37 Katie Ledecky United States 10/29/2022

Ledecky’s progression of the world record raises the average time difference significantly. Before her swim, the average time drop was 3.5 seconds. Thanks to her, it’s now 4.23.

Even though it’s been 9 years since she first set a world record at this distance, Ledecky showed tonight how much of an impact she can still make.  She’s set world records, won Olympic gold, and now, she’s set a world record in her first time swimming an event. On top of that, it’s the biggest progression of the SCM world record in history.

As for the biggest drop across both pool lengths though–that record still belongs to McGary.

In This Story

5
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

5 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SwimReason
3 months ago

Is it only me or is Katie’s stroke resembling Patrinieri’s galloping… wow she’s good!

Memma Eckeon
3 months ago

I wish Kate Ziegler had the opportunity to win an Olympic medal in the 1500 back in the day.

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Memma Eckeon
3 months ago

Ditto Janet Evans.

Memma Eckeon
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
3 months ago

But at least Evans has individual Gold in other events. I don’t even know if Ziegler has an Olympic medal

JimSwim22
3 months ago

Hveger did the most overall improvement. She dropped it by 98 seconds over her 3 record setting swims.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

Read More »