Cielo Breaks Pre-Polyurethane World Record

Riddle: When is a time of 21.55 better than a time of 20.91?

Cesar Cielo’s world-record time of 20.91 seconds, set last December, makes him the fastest 50-freestyler in history. Right? Not necessarily. That time was swum in a polyurethane super-suit.

Prior to February 2008, the month that effectively serves as Armageddon for swimming World Records, the legendary Alexander Popov of Russia held the 50 LCM World Record for almost 7 years. His mark of 21.64, set at the 2000 Russian Olympic trials, was broken several times between 2008 and now, as have most records.

But his mark still stood as the fastest time ever swum in a textile suit. Until last week at the Paris Open. That is where Cesar Cielo reaffirmed his position as the greatest sprinter in history by breaking Popov’s old mark in 21.55 seconds.

Was Cielo’s swim an official record? No, and at least for the time being won’t appear in any FINA record books. But for many, it was the affirmation they needed to truly declare Cielo the greatest sprinter ever.

According to, Cielo became the 10th swimmer to break a pre-February-2008 record this year.


  • Cesar Cielo (BRA), 21.55 50m freestyle
  • Liam Tancock (GBR), 24.52 50m backstroke
  • Matt Grevers (USA) 24.72, 50m backstroke
  • Liam Tancock (GBR) 52.85, 100m backstroke
  • Women

  • Zhao Jing (CHN) 27.72 50m backstroke
  • Gao Chang (CHN) 27.72 50m backstroke
  • Emily Seebohm (AUS) 27.95 50m backstroke
  • Aya Terakawa (JPN) 28.05 50m backstroke
  • Anastasia Zueva (RUS) 28.07 50m backstroke
  • Emily Seebohm (AUS) 59.21 100m backstroke
  • Elizabeth Simmonds (GBR) 59.43 100m backstroke
  • Therese Alshammar (SWE) 25.49 50m butterfly
  • In This Story

    Leave a Reply

    5 Comment threads
    0 Thread replies
    Most reacted comment
    Hottest comment thread
    4 Comment authors
    newest oldest most voted

    What is it with the backstroke? All truly great swims, can’t wait for Pan-pacs.

    David Rieder

    For Tancock specifically, he went 53.46 in 2007 after winning bronze (behind Peirsol/Lochte) in Melbourne. He never made the big improvements with the suits, just going 53.39 in 2008, getting sixth, when many (including myself) predicted him to medal (or at least come close to medaling). He went 24.47 in the 50 back in 2008, up from a 24.86 in 2008. The potential was always there for massive improvements, and he also had the room for improvement on the second 50, which he put together in April. Getting past the 50 back “record” of 24.80 was inevitable; in 2007, Bal and Tancock were both 24.8 and Bal was 24.81 in a jammer last December. For the women’s 50 back, that… Read more »

    About Braden Keith

    Braden Keith

    Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

    Read More »

    Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

    Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!