How Men’s 200 Breaststroke Has Exponentially Improved Since 2010

The 2020 Japan Adult Swimming Championships wrapped up tonight, with former 200m breaststroke world record holder Ippei Watanabe posting a time of 2:08.69 to shake off his long course racing cobwebs.

Amidst many of the world’s best swimmers having limited competitions in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Watanabe’s time ranks the World Championships medalist 4th among the 2020/21 season rankings. His compatriot Shoma Sato currently owns the top LCM 200 breaststroke time in the world with the big-time 2:07.02 he produced at last month’s Student Swimming Championships.

With the top tier of men’s 200m breaststrokers like Watanabe seemingly putting up 2:07 and 2:08 times as a matter of course, I wanted to put some numbers around how far this event has exponentially come in a relatively short period of time.

I grabbed all the men’s LCM 200 breaststroke times in the 2:06-, 2:07- and 2:08-ranges spanning 2010 and 2019 to take a look at how many more members of the pack entered new time brackets from year-to-year.

In 2010, for example, there were just 2 swimmers in the world that year who got under the 2:09 barrier. Only 2 years later that total more than doubled to 5 swimmers under 2:09, with an additional 3 entering the 2:07-zone.

The 2016 Olympic year was an especially notable breakout time period for the event, as 8 swimmers logged a time as 2:07.XX. This led to our first-ever swimmers getting into the 2:06 zone in Watanabe (2:06.67) and Russia’s Anton Chupkov (2:06.96) less than a year later.

Flash forward to 2019 and Chupkov landed on the record books with a new world standard of 2:06.12 posted in Gwangju, with his time now representing a real and present danger to the 2:06 barrier.

With next year’s Olympics bringing the best of the best to Tokyo, we will most likely need to revisit this data table with a new time column entered once those Games are done and dusted.

Men’s LCM 200 Breaststroke Top-Tier Times 2010-2019


2:06.XX 2:07.XX 2:08.XX Total Swimmers under 2:09 for the year
2010 0 0 2 2
2011 0 0 4 4
2012 0 3 5 8
2013 0 2 6 8
2014 0 5 6 11
2015 0 2 8 10
2016 0 8 3 11
2017 2 5 9 16
2018 1 4 11 16
2019 3 7 12 22

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The unoriginal Tim
2 months ago

Was 2015/16 when the changes were made to fly kicks on the pullout? That is worth a decent bit of time – maybe as much as one second on a 200.

But the improvements recently are after that and its perhaps due to the technique changes with everyone trying to narrow kick further and get more undulation in the back/hips as the hands go forward.

Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
2 months ago

In late 14/early 15, the rule change in breaststroke was a swimmer no longer had to initiate hand separation out of streamline prior to the dolphin down kick on the pullout. This rule is very minor and wouldn’t have a crazy effect especially in LC. Look at Chupkov in 2017, from an aerial view, you’ll see that he never has his hands together even pushing off the wall yet he doesn’t lose any ground on the pullout. The dolphin kick was allowed beginning in the 05/06 timeframe post 04 Kitajima and prior to Beijing 08. Obviously even 1 dolphin kick has a substantial effect on the pullout distance and breakout speed which can be carried over into the rest of… Read more »

AW Superfan
2 months ago

Andrew Wilson 2:05.99…. u heard it here first

Reply to  AW Superfan
2 months ago

American breastrokers r behind the rest of the world

Reply to  Need4Speed
2 months ago

Probably has something to do with how wildly different short course and long course breastroke are

Reply to  Need4Speed
2 months ago

Do not tell that to Josh Matheny who beat Sato handily at World junior champs last year (Matheny was 16yr at the time), with 2:09. Josh will be 18yr old (still HS) at the trials in 2021, and will go under 2:08.

Next year, Matheny will practice with Indiana University squad, and yes, he will be the first US swimmer under 2:06:50 if not under 2:06.

Last edited 2 months ago by yinz
Reply to  AW Superfan
2 months ago

In prelims or semi-finals? His history has a bit of a black mark in regards to his being able to put it together for finals swims (sadly). But hey, if he gets to Tokyo, maybe that will change as finals will be in the morning (correct? and that won’t be true at Trials…I think?).

2 months ago

Seems due for a major breakthrough performance.

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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