Data work from Daniel Takata of SwimmingStats contributed to this report.
The world has gone on a record-breaking tear early in 2023, led by the recent record-breaking swim from Evgeniia Chikunova of Russia in the 200 breaststroke. In the span of 42 days, four long-course world records have been broken.
Keep in mind, we’re in the middle of April right now. The 2023 World Championships, the premier long course “taper” meet of the year, hasn’t happened yet. Major powerhouse swimming countries like the United States and Australia haven’t even held their trials meets. And yet, swimming seems to be averaging one world record a week at this moment. So this brings us to the question: how big of a deal is this really?
For starters, the first long course world record of 2022 didn’t come until April 28, 2022, when Hunter Armstrong took down the 50 back world record at the 2022 U.S. International Team trials. It’s still not April 28, 2023, and we’ve already had four fall.
In 2023, the first long course world record was broken by Kaylee McKeown in the 200 back on March 10—over a month before April 28. And the momentum didn’t stop with McKeown, as two world records came from Summer McIntosh on March 28 and April 1, and Evgeniia Chikunova took down a world record on April 21. In other words, in around the same time (even shorter, actually) it took to see one world record go down in 2022, we’ve seen four broken in 2023.
March 10 is actually the earliest that a long-course world record has been broken in a calendar year since 2017, when Ippei Watanabe broke the men’s 200 breast world record on January 29. In fact, in the post-supersuit-era, only 9 out of the 103 total long course world records set have been prior to May 1st, with half of those 9 world records coming from this year. So while early-season world records are common, to have four of them in one year is certainly an anomaly.
Date That The First Long Course World Record Of The Year Was Set (Post-Supersuit Era):
- 2010: No world records broken
- 2011: July 28 (Ryan Lochte, men’s 200 IM)
- 2012: July 28 (Ye Shiwen, women’s 400 IM)
- 2013: July 29 (Ruta Meilutyte, women’s 100 breast)
- 2014: June 19 (Katie Ledecky, women’s 1500 free)
- 2015: April 17 (Adam Peaty, men’s 100 breast)
- 2016: January 17 (Katie Ledecky, women’s 800 free)
- 2017: January 29 (Ippei Watanabe, men’s 200 breast)
- 2018: April 5 (Australia, women’s 4×100 free relay)
- 2019: July 21 (Adam Peaty, men’s 100 breast)
- 2020: October 1 (China, mixed 4×100 medley relay)
- 2021: May 17 (Kliment Kolesnikov, men’s 50 back)
- 2022: April 28 (Hunter Armstrong, men’s 50 back)
- 2023: March 10 (Kaylee McKeown, 200 back)
List Of Long Course World Records Set Before May 1st (Post-Supersuit Era)
- Adam Peaty, 100 breast (57.92): April 17, 2015
- Katie Ledecky, 800 free (8:06.68): January 17, 2016
- Ippei Watanabe, 200 breast (2:06.67): January 29, 2017
- Australia, women’s 4×100 free relay (3:30.05): April 5, 2018
- Hunter Armstrong, 50 back (23.80): April 28, 2022
- Kaylee McKeown, 200 back (2:03.14): March 10, 2023
- Summer McIntosh, 400 free (3:56.08): March 28, 2023
- Summer McIntosh, 400 IM (4:25.87): April 1, 2023
- Evgeniia Chikunova, 200 breast (2:17.55): April 17, 2023
So what can explain for this phenomenon? Are swimmers really beginning to swim fast year-round instead of just at one big meet? After all, we did see short course US Open records go down three different times prior to conference championships during the 2022-23 NCAA season, so going all-out all the time is clearly the trend. That being said, it wasn’t like the world records this year were being set at random, in-season meets—McIntosh and Chikunova were swimming at the Canadian and Russian championships respectivley, which two of the biggest domestic meets of the 2022-23 season. However, McKeown did say she wasn’t tapered during the New South Wales Championships where she went her 200 back world record, so that’s something to consider.
Another significant fact is that all four world records this year were set by women. By contrast, out of the five individual world records set in 2022, four were in men’s events and only one was in a women’s event (Ariane Titmus’s 400 free). Across the board last year, men’s times did seem to be historically faster than women’s times (7/14 of men’s individual events at the 2022 World Championships were faster than the 2021 Olympic winning time, and only 3/14 women’s events were), so this could be a sign that women’s swimming is catching up.
So what are these early-season world records signifying? If swimming continues the momentum, we are most certainly going to pass the mark of eight world records that were set in 2022, considering the World Championships (where historically, the most world records have been set) hasn’t even happened yet. But only time will tell.
As a refresher, here are graphics showing the number of world records broken every year as distributed by gender and race type, as well as race videos of the world records that have been broken in 2023.
We are in a different generation that 6 years ago.
No more Phelps, Lochte, Missy Franklin, Perisol, etc
We now have Dressel, Ledecky, Peaty, McIntosh and more!
Wrong video is linked for Summer’s 400 FR
Does anybody think it’s significant that all of these records are being set in longer distance events (ie: 200 breast vs 50/100)? Does this suggest improvements in training techniques is a big factor?
Ever since the end of the “suit era” I think it has been easier for women to break records vs men because the current female suit covers/compresses a more similar amount of skin to the tech suits.
I also think the ladies setting these records are generational talents, and that they are emerging now because better athletes have been motivated to put their efforts into swimming vs other sports as a result of the increased attention given to star swimmers like Phelps when they were younger.
I’ve been saying it for years, the “Phelps effect” is, along with the 23 Olympic Golds, the biggest part of why he is simply untouchable in any GOAT debate ever. Not only the quality of athlete has drastically improved at the star level, the DEPTH of all events has skyrocketed (even if the suit era has left a couple records out of reach for now).
More than any factor, it’s because of 2004-2008 Phelps. being an age grouper then, he made swimming cool. and that means alot
YANYAN LI a “Phelps effect” article would you are bored?
Another great article by Yanyan, by far Swimswam’s best writer!
Laughs in 2007
keep forgetting that 14 World records were set at that meet and the fact that it was earlier in the year.
I would add 08 as another with the multiple 50 and 100 free WR’s being broken at French nationals and Aussie trials too!
The new WR holders are still pretty young. I hope they will continue to improve and dazzle us with their talent.
Summer McIntosh’s 400 IM WR was especially thrilling. She was going at full steam from start to finish.
And the crazy thing is that she still has so much room for improvement.
Both her 400 free and IM WRs swims were ridiculously amazing.
The only swimmer ever to hold both 400 free/IM WRs, and she broke it in one meet.
Possibly the most talented female swimmer since Tracy Caulkins.
Great article! It’s interesting that there was a lull in the ’90s, plus lots of year-to-year inconsistency. Then the pace of world records picked up in the early 2000s, spiked in 2008-9, and after a couple of years recovery, has settled into a fairly consistent pattern the past decade.
There’s lots more to be understood about these patterns. A few questions I’d be particularly interested in knowing the answer to:
Two reasons I can think for the lull in records in the 90s:
The 1980 Olympic boycott also had an effect. Kids who would have been motivated to join swim clubs after watching the Olympics didn’t. Consequently, the sport suffered and it really showed 10-15 years afterwards.
Macintosh will break the 200im at worlds, Maggie McNeil the 100 fly , and summer 200 free
McIntosh will break ALL the world records including the relays swimming all four legs herself !
She’ll break the 4×200 relay record by just swimming a 7:30 800 free on her own.
Nah, she won’t beat Zhang Lin’s 7:32, but she will swim 7:34
Nah she’ll swim a 1500 but break the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 world records in the same race. Then FINA will present her with a medal made of diamonds and award her a small island nation of her choosing.
And the good thing is she is not from australia
Doesn’t matter. Love the Aussies. I’m American. Love swimming. Love the Americans, Canadians, French, Brits, Germany, Spain, etc. Can’t stand the cheaters: Russia, and Chinese. Anytime they get beaten, I’m ecstatic.
I wonder when was the last time you were outside the US? The world is different my kid.
I’m assuming you’re Canadian?
Have you not seen him constantly posting recently? David Illouz, Crazy Canuck and yourself are the three most prominent Summer nuts.
Don’t compare me to those trolls. At least I can respect good swims.
Fair enough. You do at least have useful commentary to contribute. But all three of you tend to make comments like “still won’t beat SUMMER” on any article that is not even tangentially related to her.
I apologize. From now on, I’ll stick to only commenting about Summer on relevant articles.
The greatest character development in swimswam history yet.
Those meaning australian trolls which are too many over here
Australia wishes summer mcintosh was in their squad
She has potential to break 200free 200im 200fly world records hala canada!