I’m trying to put into perspective how overwhelmingly ridiculous that swim is. In the very first article I wrote for SwimSwam, I talked a bit about how much certain people dropped records by. It was only looking at LCM events, but the takeaway was that taking 3% off a record is a tremendous amount of time that’s only happened 12 times in the modern era – by people that we consider truly legendary in their respective events (Phelps, Peirsol, Mary T, Tom Jager, etc.). But even there, this was only looking at record drop. As these giants of the sport changed their events, the world followed – so they were never as far ahead of their competition as these numbers might suggest. When Phelps swam a 49, there was another 49 in the same heat. When Peirsol swam the 1:51.9, Irie was 1:52.5 right there. The drops in the records are huge, but the gaps against the competition is smaller.
When Caeleb Dressel came onto the scene, the fastest time ever swum in the 50y free was Cesar Cielo’s 18.47. Cielo is now the second fastest all-time, but a whopping 0.84s back. The magnitude of that margin is difficult to comprehend. 4.55%. This would be the 2nd largest gap in the original article, but there’s nobody else in that gap. A full 4.55% back to the second fastest person ever. Ryan Held is an Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter, the fourth fastest all-time in this event, and the NCAA final reminded me of the Hulk tossing around Loki like a ragdoll.
4.55% is just a number though. How does that compare to other events? Let’s take a look at some people we consider untouchably dominant in their events. Katie Ledecky in the distance freestyles. In the 800m free, she’s nearly 10 seconds faster than anybody has ever been. She’s taken distance swimming to a completely new level. And yet, how fast would she have to be to equal Dressel’s dominance? 7:51.63.
I took a look at all the other events where currently we think of somebody as completely owning (being at least 1% ahead of the next fastest ever), and this for me really puts in perspective what Dressel’s time really means.
|Swimmer/Event||2nd Best Ever||Their Best||Gap to 2nd||What it would take to be 4.55% ahead|
|Dressel, 50y free||18.47||17.63||4.55%||—|
|Sjostrom, 50m fly||25.07||24.43||2.55%||23.93|
|Ledecky, 1650y free||15:24.35||15:03.31||2.28%||14:42.31|
|Peaty, 100m breast||58.46||57.13||2.28%||55.8|
|Peaty, 50m breast||26.52||25.95||2.15%||25.31|
|Ledecky, 1000y free||9:10.77||8:59.65||2.02%||8:45.72|
|Ledecky, 800m free||8:14.10||8:04.79||1.88%||7:51.63|
|Dressel, 100y free||40.76||40||1.86%||38.91|
|Ledecky, 500y free||4:28.90||4:24.06||1.80%||4:16.67|
|Ledecky, 1500m free||15:38.88||15:25.48||1.43%||14:56.18|
|Manuel, 100y free||46.2||45.56||1.39%||44.1|
|Murphy, 100y back||44.07||43.49||1.32%||42.07|
|Liu, 200m fly||2:03.41||2:01.81||1.30%||1:57.80|
|Dressel, 200y im||1:39.38||1:38.13||1.26%||1:34.86|
|Ledecky, 400m free||3:59.15||3:56.46||1.12%||3:48.27|
|Murphy, 200y back||1:36.81||1:35.73||1.12%||1:32.41|
|Kalisz, 400y im||3:35.76||3:33.42||1.08%||3:25.95|
|Phelps, 200m fly||1:52.70||1:51.51||1.06%||1:47.57|
|Bolt, 100m Dash||9.69||9.58||1.14%||9.25|