arena Swim of the Week: Marchand Closes In On Phelps With 4:04 400 IM

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Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

It’s been a historic week for Frenchman Leon Marchand, and his crowning achievement came Saturday as he produced the second-fastest 400 IM in history.

Marchand, 20, stunned the world on the opening night of the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, putting a real scare into Michael Phelps‘ world record in the men’s 400 IM, which is the oldest long course world record still on the books.

The world record in this event stood at 4:08.24, set by Phelps in 2004, for three years before he knocked two seconds off it at the 2007 World Championships. After going 4:06.22 in Melbourne, it took less than 18 months for Phelps to bring the record another two-plus seconds at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Phelps went 4:05.25 at the U.S. Olympic Trials before clocking 4:03.84 in Beijing, a time that had never been seriously approached in almost 14 years.

In fact, Phelps’ 4:08.24 winning time from the 2004 Olympics in Athens would’ve won the world title in 2013, 2015 and 2019, not to mention the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. That just goes to show how much this event had stagnated over the last decade or so.

The only swimmers that joined Phelps with sub-4:06 swims since 2008 have been his fellow Americans Ryan Lochte and Chase Kalisz.

Lochte, who neared Phelps at the 2008 Olympic Trials in 4:06.08, won the 2012 Olympic title in 4:05.18, under world record pace through the 300 before trailing off on freestyle.

Kalisz then won the 2017 world title in 4:05.90, and the event fell backwards in the following years, including Kalisz winning the Tokyo gold medal in a pedestrian 4:09.42.

Enter Marchand, who moved to Arizona State University last fall to join Phelps’ longtime coach (and sometimes Kalisz’s), Bob Bowman.

Marchand’s progression under Bowman was apparent, as he had an incredible freshman NCAA season that included winning a pair of national titles in the 200 IM and 200 fly (short course yards).

Coming into the World Championships, Marchand was among the popular picks for gold in the 400 IM, but no one anticipated he’d go anywhere near the time he ended up producing.

He came into Budapest with a personal best time of 4:09.65, and then brought that down to 4:09.09 in the prelims.

Then came the final, where a near five-second best time led him to the second-fastest swim in history and the fastest ever in a textile suit. He also broke Laszlo Cseh‘s European Record of 4:06.16, Kalisz’s Championship Record from 2017, and his French Record from the heats.

All-Time Performances, Men’s 400 IM (LCM)

  1. Michael Phelps – 4:03.84 (2008)
  2. Leon Marchand – 4:04.28 (2022)
  3. Ryan Lochte – 4:05.18 (2012)
  4. Michael Phelps – 4:05.25 (2008)
  5. Chase Kalisz – 4:05.90 (2017)
  6. Kosuke Hagino – 4:06.05 (2016)
  7. Ryan Lochte – 4:06.08 (2008)
  8. Daiya Seto – 4:06.09 (2020)
  9. Laszlo Cseh – 4:06.16 (2008)
  10. Michael Phelps – 4:06.22 (2007)

Marchand’s breaststroking ability carried him to rattling Phelps’ record, out-splitting the GOAT by over three seconds to put him over a second under WR pace at the 300-meter turn.

Phelps, 2008 Olympics Marchand, 2022 Worlds
25.73 25.78
54.92 (29.19) 55.54 (29.76)
1:26.29 (31.37) 1:27.60 (32.06)
1:56.49 (30.20) 1:58.66 (31.06)
2:31.26 (34.77) 2:32.07 (33.41)
3:07.05 (35.79) 3:05.94 (33.87)
3:35.99 (28.94) 3:35.69 (29.75)
4:03.84 (27.85) 4:04.28 (28.59)

Marchand went on to win medals in perhaps the two events Phelps was best known for throughout his career, winning the world title in the 200 IM and adding a silver medal in the 200 fly.

While it’s common for people to say that comparing today’s athletes to past legends isn’t entirely fair, Marchand has earned the Phelps comparisons with this swim. He’s what this event has been waiting for to take a step forward, and like Phelps did throughout his career, Marchand will only push his competitors to get faster.

That immediately became evident in the race itself, as American Carson Foster dropped nearly two seconds from his best time to win silver with the 11th-fastest performance ever in 4:06.56, while Kalisz swam his fastest time in five years (4:07.47) for bronze.

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1 month ago

I would love to see that split comparison between Lochte’s 2012 swim and Leon’s swim. At the time Phelps was so far ahead of all other 400 im swimmers in freestyle that the world record line is a little bit of a tease.

1 month ago

A wonderful swim and a really exciting athlete. As a matter of interest is the “Arena swim of the week” limited to an Arena swimmer? With regards to Arena, was Chalmers an Arena swimmer at Tokyo? If not, I’m really looking forward to seeing him do a full on flat start LCM 100 Free.

1 month ago

FYI: Ar NCAA’s he won 200 yrd breast. Not 200 fly, but based on his time in 200 m Fly here, he very well could have won 200 yrd fly at NCAAs.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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