Dolfin Swim of the Week: Thorpe’s Legendary Week of World Records in 2000

Disclaimer: Dolfin 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  Dolfin Swim 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.

Twenty years ago, Australian Ian Thorpe kicked off a new millennium with three world records and a 400 free swim that still stacks up among the best in history.

Swimming at Australia’s Olympic Trials, the 17-year-old Thorpe opened the meet with a blistering 3:41.33 in the 400 free. That cut a half-second off of Thorpe’s standing world record, which he’d set the summer prior while becoming the first man ever under both 3:42 and 3:43. An absolute freestyle dominator at the time, Thorpe was the defending World and Pan Pacs champ in the event, and even two decades later, he holds up as one of the best 400 freestylers in history. He would hit his peak in the race with a 3:40.08 at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, and that is the #2 time in history behind only a super-suited Paul Biedermann, who broke the world record by a single hundredth of a second in 2009.

Thorpe’s 3:41.3 from this day in 2000 is still the #10 performance of all-time, and since the fall of the super-suits, only one man (Sun Yang) has bettered a Thorpe swim from years before the peak of that rubberized suit era. Thorpe still owns 5 of the top 10 swims in history in the 400 free:

Top 400 Freestyles in History

  1. Paul Biederman (2009) – 3:40.07
  2. Ian Thorpe (2002) – 3:40.08
  3. Sun Yang (2012) – 3:40.12
  4. Ian Thorpe (2001) – 3:40.17
  5. Sun Yang (2011) – 3:40.29
  6. Ian Thorpe (2002) – 3:40.54
  7. Ian Thorpe (2000) – 3:40.59
  8. Ian Thorpe (2001) – 3:40.76
  9. Ous Mellouli (2009) – 3:41.11
  10. Ian Thorpe (2000) – 3:41.33

Over the next two days, Thorpe would put up the first 200 frees ever under 1:46 – he broke the world record in 1:45.69 on May 14, then went 1:45.51 on May 15. Despite losing that record briefly to Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, Thorpe would regain the record and hold it until 2007, when a bodysuited Michael Phelps went 1:43.86. Thorpe remains the #5 performer in history in the event.

You can relive those swims in all their grainy, 2000-era glory courtesy of australianswimming on YouTube:

400 free – 3:41.33 world record

200 free – 1:45.51 world record

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Biedermann holding the WR is such a travesty.


It blows my mind that Ian’s 400 free WR would still be standing today if Biedermann didn’t break it. That would be an 18-year old record, which is very rare for swimming.


If Beidermann didn’t top Thorpe by .01 second, Thorpe would have held (and still be holding) the 400 free WR continuously since May ’99 which would be the record for longest held record.


agreed , Bierderman only took off 1 /100 of a second ……ridiculous suited WR


I wish the supersuit era hadn’t gotten so out of hand, but Thorpe’s start and underwaters are the real travesty IMO. I realize this was 20 years ago, but it’s crazy how some of the skill elements of the sport have evolved since. A modern world-class 400 freestyler has at least 2 seconds on Thorpe from the starts, turns, and underwaters, and he’s still untouchable. As far as Biedermann goes, it could be worse. He’s one of only a few men to break 1:45 in textile in the 200 and 3:44 is very good in the 400, and was still getting international medals after 2009. Contrast that with all the flash-in-the-pan WR holders of the supersuit era that you never… Read more »


Crazy thing is, relative to his competitors, Thorpe had great starts and turns! Thorpe always blew away PVDH off the walls, and even Phelps didn’t really gain anything underwater on Thorpe in the race of the century (though undoubtedly post-2007 Phelps would have smoked him).

Thorpe’s kick/leg strength was so monstrous that even with a non-existent streamline, he had the best walls in the world.

Old Man Chalmers

yeah, thorpe said that his turn was what got him back in the race in the 2000 4×100 free and allowed him to out touch hall


that relay swim anchor was unbelievable ….


Fun fact: Hall actually split faster than Thorpe in that 100! I mean everyone expected Hall to be faster in the first place given that he’s a sprinter, and Thorpe definitely swam a smarter race and used his insane back half to get the job done

Irish Ringer

Interesting to hear the announcer mention the body suit was controversial at the time considering two others have a full body suit and the remaining were sleeveless.

Old Man Chalmers

his suit controversy wasn’t because of a competitive advantage, it was because thorpe signed a ludicrous contract with adidas and fought to wear the suit provided by them instead of the speedo provided by the australian team. Thorpe even rates his first world record with the suit (200 free scm – 1:41.10, feb 2000) as the best swim of his career because of its context

Irish Ringer

Thanks! I wasn’t aware of that. It looked like Kieran Perkins was wearing the same suit as well. Was he sponsored by Adidas too?


No he wasn’t sponsored by Adidas

GA Boy

“This incredible man! Or is he a man!” has to be one of the best swim calls of all time!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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