With a trifecta of major international meets taking center stage last week, there were no shortage of big-league records being set. Whether they were word, junior world, meet, European, Commonwealth, national or all-comers records, the collective swimming record books took a barrage of shots this week from Berlin (and the European Championships), Nanjing (the Youth Olympic Games) and the Gold Coast (the Pan Pacific Championships. (Side note: a shout out to our own records guy, Troy Gennaro, for his great work keeping up with the weeklong deluge).
But with all those well-publicized records, let’s look at one swim that didn’t break a single one, a swim that, while it got quite a bit of fanfare, is one at risk of slipping through the cracks of a wild weekend in the world of swimming.
Though the women’s 4×200 free relay at Euros went to Italy, and much of the glory to anchor Federica Pellegrini, who ran down Sweden from way back to take gold, the fastest split in the pool came from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom – and it wasn’t even close.
Sjostrom swam third on her relay, splitting an obnoxious 1:53.64. As impressive as Pellegrini’s split was, Sjostrom was actually just a tick off of three full seconds faster. And she wasn’t just faster than Pellegrini. Sjostrom put up the fastest split of any major international meet this year. Faster than Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin in Australia. Faster than any single leg of the Commonwealth Games. Faster than anyone in Nanjing. A second and a half faster than anyone in the world has flat-started in 2014.
As is often the case with Sjostrom this year, what’s most impressive is how far ahead of the world she was. A look at how she stacks up to the 10 fastest splits in the world last week:
- Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden, European Championships: 1:53.64
- Katie Ledecky, USA, Pan Pacific Championships: 1:54.36
- Emma McKeon, Australia, Pan Pacific Championships: 1:55.85
- Missy Franklin, USA, Pan Pacific Championships: 1:56.12
- Federica Pellegrini, Italy, European Championships: 1:56.50
- Katinka Hosszu, Hungary, European Championships: 1:56.58
- Mel Schlanger, Australia, Pan Pacific Championships: 1:56.63
- Veronica Popova, Russia, European Championships: 1:56.78 (lead-off)
- Brittany Elmslie, Australia, Pan Pacific Championships: 1:56.92
- Melanie Costa Schmid, Spain, European Championships: 1:57.04 (lead-off)
When we say “it’s not even close,” we mean it. Sjostrom was seven tenths faster than American phenom Ledecky, and two full seconds faster than anyone else in the world.
Perhaps more impressive is that the 200 is far from a focus event for Sjostrom. We hear much talk about how difficult it is to train speed at multiple distances; we’ve heard swim fans doubt that a sprinter like Nathan Adrian can be the world’s best in the 50 and 100 free at the same time, given the difficulty in training both straight-line top speed and extended speed like the 100 calls for. But Sjostrom has proven she’s elite not only at the 50 and 100, but also in the 200, a race that requires far more pacing and endurance than most sprinters can live up to.
Sjostrom won the 50 fly and 100 free prior to this relay split, and also finished second in the 50 free and 100 fly by a combined margin of .06 seconds. Had she been able to fit the 200 free into her lineup, the Swede would have won that event too, even if her flat-start added well over a second compared to her relay exchange. That’s world-class speed over a tremendous range. That is a HardCore effort.
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