Former and Almost-World Record Holders: The Second-Fastest Performers All-Time

A palpable electricity engulfs the stands and sends shockwaves around the pool deck when a major record is broken. A similar surge emanates through the crowd and masses on deck when a record is nearly broken. Consider at the 2017 FINA World Championships when American Caeleb Dressel nearly broke Michael Phelps‘ 2009 World Record in the 100 butterfly, registering a 49.86 to Phelps’ 49.82.

Phelps’ name appears on the list of second-fastest performers all-time more than a casual viewer of swimming would probably expect, but for those deeply entrenched in the sport, watching Phelps’ records fall has been a bittersweet march forward for swimming. Phelps retains only one individual World Record in the 400 IM, though his influence, impact, and continued omnipresence is indelible.

Beyond Phelps, the list of second-fastest performers all-time includes many legendary swimmers and former records that were once thought untouchable.

Phelps graces the list four times, the most of any swimmer, male or female.

Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte is the only woman to hold more than one position on the list as she remains the second-fastest all-time in both the 50 and 100 breaststroke.

Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington has held on to the title of second-fastest ever in the 800 meter freestyle, though it’s also worth noting that American World Record Holder and double Olympic gold medalist in the 800 free Katie Ledecky holds the top-22 fastest performances all-time, meaning Adlington’s former World Record has been beaten on 22 separate occasions by Ledecky.

Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom has a similar dominance in the 50 butterfly where she is the sole contributor to the top-16 fastest performances all-time, meaning that the second-fastest woman in history in the event, compatriot and former-World Record holder Therese Alshammar, occupies the 17th-fastest position on the all-time performances list.

Similarly, on the men’s side, Ilya Shymanovich of Belarus is the second-fastest man ever in the 100 meter breaststroke, though his incredible 58.29 from 2018 is only the 19th-fastest performance all-time, leaving the top-18 to Great Britain’s Adam Peaty.

The Second-Fastest Performers All-Time (LCM)

WOMEN EVENT MEN
Year Swimmer Time LCM Time Swimmer Year
2009 Britta Steffen (GER) 23.73 50 Freestyle 20.94 Fred Bousquet (FRA) 2009
2018 Cate Campbell (AUS) 52.03 100 Freestyle 46.94 Alain Bernard (FRA) 2009
2012 Allison Schmitt (USA) 1:53.61 200 Freestyle 1:42.96 Michael Phelps (USA) 2008
2019 Ariarne Titmus (AUS) 3:58.58 400 Freestyle 3:40.08 Ian Thorpe (AUS) 2002
2008 Rebecca Adlington (GBR) 8:14.10 800 Freestyle 7:35.27 Ous Mellouli (TUN) 2009
2013 Lotte Friis (DEN) 15:38.88 1500 Freestyle 14:33.10 Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) 2020
2009 Zhao Jing (CHN) 27.06 50 Backstroke 24.04 Liam Tancock (GBR) 2009
2018 Kathleen Baker (USA) 58.00 100 Backstroke 51.86 Xu Jiayu (CHN) 2017
2012 Missy Franklin (USA) 2:04.06 200 Backstroke 1:52.51 Ryosuke Irie (JPN) 2009
2013 Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) 29.48 50 Breaststroke 26.33 Felipe Lima (BRA) 2019
2013 Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) 1:04.35 100 Breaststroke 58.29 Ilya Shymanovich (BLR) 2019
2013 Yulia Efimova (RUS) 2:19.41 200 Breaststroke 2:06.67 Ippei Watanabe (JPN)/
Matthew Wilson (AUS)
2017/
2019
2009 Therese Alshammar (SWE) 25.07 50 Butterfly 22.35 Caeleb Dressel (USA) 2019
2019 Maggie MacNeil (CAN) 55.83 100 Butterfly 49.82 Michael Phelps (USA) 2009
2009 Jessicah Schipper (AUS) 2:03.41 200 Butterfly 1:51.51 Michael Phelps (USA) 2009
2009 Ariana Kukors (USA) 2:06.15 200 IM 1:54.16 Michael Phelps (USA) 2011
2012 Ye Shiwen (CHN) 4:28.43 400 IM 4:05.18 Ryan Lochte (USA) 2012

 

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Aussie
7 days ago

Hackett is incredible but I think he is now third in the 1500, not second.

Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  Aussie
7 days ago

Yes, the second fastest in 1500 is Paltrinieri.
Also, I think the second fastest in 800 is Mellouli instead of Hackett? Hackett is 2nd fastest in textile.

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
6 days ago

Hackett is second if you only count swimmers who haven’t been banned.

  1. Gregorio Paltrinieri – 14:33.10, 2020
  2. Grant Hackett – 14:34.56, 2001
Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
6 days ago

OK. if we take Sun and Mellouli off the list, then Hackett is indeed 2nd in both events. but why is Efimova still on the list then?

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Casas 100 back gold in Tokyo
6 days ago

the context was the m1500, but yes, soni is #2

Last edited 6 days ago by Old Man Chalmers
swimmerswammer
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
4 days ago

Those are the official World Records though. If the swims were during the period that the doping infraction impacted they would have been stricken. You can’t just change the list because you don’t like the names on it.

Bousquet had a positive test for heptaminol and he’s on this list.
Cielo had a positive test for furosemide but his WR in the 100 is left on this list.
Mellouli had a positive for adderall and he’s on this list.
Lochte had a doping violation and he’s on this list.

DMacNCheez
Reply to  Aussie
6 days ago

Yup, Paltrinieri was 14:33.10 this year, and Oussama Mellouli was 7:35.27 behind Zhang Lin’s insane 800m record in 2009. So Hackett actually isn’t on the list

DravenOP
7 days ago

Thorpe’s 3:40 is legendary.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  DravenOP
7 days ago

That full body suit he wore was something else, too. A novelty at the time.

Aussie
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
7 days ago

Although not helpful like the super suits.

CA_LAWYER
Reply to  Aussie
6 days ago

But still helpful.

Tyson
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

The suit really wasn’t as helpful as people think other swimmers chose not to wear it not just because of how long to put on but they also found it restricted the user’s movement especially around the shoulders from the suit being so tight. Obviously it comes down to personal preference but even the technology of the 2000 suits and the materials used aren’t as advanced as the ones we have today. It wasn’t until 2008-2009 the suits became a problem and something had to be done which is why they got banned. Don’t forget Thorpe also went 3.44 as a 15 year old and 3.41 the year later I believe

Last edited 6 days ago by Tyson
Xman
Reply to  Tyson
6 days ago

Tom Malchow’s podcast confirmed that a lot of the swimmers only wore the full bodysuit out of contractual obligations, and almost no one wore the suit with sleeves. Also until the FS-Pro came out the fabric used in Speedo’s suits would absorb a lot of water.

I think leg skins at the time had more of an impact with the compression element. Around the same time track and field athletes started using compression shorts and pants (tights?).

To my knowledge the Adidas bodysuit wasn’t mass produced and Thorpe was the only big-name swimmer to wore it. I don’t think the suit notably improved performance and was a way for Thorpe to stand out on TV.

Last edited 6 days ago by Xman
Robbos
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

Clutching at straws dude.

CA_LAWYER
Reply to  Robbos
6 days ago

He thought he was gaining an advantage at the time….

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-07/aa-apn071803.php

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

Yeah, it was all the suit. smh

M D E
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

Thats a commercial…

I’m not saying it wasn’t an advantage, but what was he supposed to say in promo material?

swimfast
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

no, seriously not. the neoprene material was what made the suits fast, not the full-body aspect. thorpe’s suit was a style and comfort thing, which may have contributed, and may have provided SOME but not much extra stability, but the suit wasn’t made of the material that made 2009 so bizarre. it’s just not the same

Old Man Chalmers
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
7 days ago

this swim was something else too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jnz08P6sQEQ
3:41.83 as a 16 yo in 1999. even sun yang – a doper in modern jammers, couldn’t beat it last year. or anyone else in the world until the jaked and arena x-glide came out. biedermann was 3:46 in jammers 12 months after his wr. sun yang was 3:40 only in 2012. thorpe still had a natural progression after signing with adidas, so didn’t need the suit

Last edited 6 days ago by Old Man Chalmers
Robbos
Reply to  Old Man Chalmers
6 days ago

Yes a 3.41.83 as a 16 year old in briefs, not hard for it to imagine he would one day swim a 3.40.08 & have the oldest 2nd best time ever despite the improvements in swimming over the years.

CA_LAWYER
Reply to  Robbos
6 days ago

Almost peaked at 16.

Robbos
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

Australians peak early, Chalmers 17 years wins Olympic swimming blue ribbon event 100 Free, Dressel, most dominant swimmer in the world today, yet to win 100 free Olympic gold & he’s 24 years old.

M D E
Reply to  Robbos
6 days ago

Chalmers has improved about half a second since that swim. When you are already Olympic champ that is a big improvement on the 100 FS.

And he is still young enough that he could continue to improve and is a pretty good shot at defending his olympic title on the 100 free next year.

dude
Reply to  CA_LAWYER
6 days ago

who cares when you go 3:41.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  DravenOP
6 days ago

Yep. Apparently he held back on the last length because he had a big schedule that week. I think he might have gone 3:39 but after this he had motivation and mental health issues and while he still produced great swims he didn’t have the same spark. A bit like Phelps for after Beijing.

Sean S
Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
6 days ago

He was 3:40 a number of different times. If he had been capable of 3:39 I’m sure he would have done it.

Aussie
Reply to  Sean S
6 days ago

At his absolute peak that year that he held back because of his schedule. He regrets it. You can see it on the replay. He regrets it. It was 2002.

Torchbearer
Reply to  Sean S
6 days ago

He has said he held back a little, and had no idea how fast he was swimming in that race.

Bub
Reply to  Torchbearer
6 days ago

I’m interested to see if Kieran Smith can take a shot at 3:39 considering he said that he thinks he could have gone 3:41 in SEC shape this year.

Sean S
Reply to  Bub
6 days ago

Can we wait for him to break 3:46 before we talk about sub 3:40?

frug
Reply to  Sean S
6 days ago

Thorpe said not kicking all the way to the wall in 2002 was his biggest regret in swimming. “I did a 400m swim where I broke the world record in Manchester and I just didn’t realise that I was going as fast as I was,” Thorpe said. “And I knew that I was swimming seven events at that competition and had I known I was going as well as I was I would have tried harder. I had no idea until I was looking up at the board.” https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/ian-thorpe-believes-his-400-free-world-record-could-have-been-faster/ He was well on his to a 3:39 before he took his foot off the gas. If you go back and watch the race you can actually see when he pulls up… Read more »

Last edited 6 days ago by frug
Coach Mike 1952
7 days ago

Very nice to see the well-liked Ryosuke Irie in position #2 in 200 back. I recall watching the men’s 200 IM race where MP & RL slugged it out, & was hoping one or both would even go under 1:54. Oh so close!

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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