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
8 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.

Swammer
Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
8 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… Read more »

AW Superfan
8 months ago

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

Need4Speed
Reply to  AW Superfan
8 months ago

American breastrokers r behind the rest of the world

Justanotherfreestyler
Reply to  Need4Speed
8 months ago

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

yinz
Reply to  Need4Speed
8 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 8 months ago by yinz
Weaseldom
Reply to  AW Superfan
8 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?).

Drewbrewsbeer
8 months ago

Seems due for a major breakthrough performance.

Old School
8 months ago

Exponentially – “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. – Vizzini

B One
Reply to  Old School
8 months ago

You are correct. Incorrect word choice/use.

monsterbasher
Reply to  Old School
8 months ago

Saying that 200 breast has been improving linearly doesn’t really have the same eye catching headline.

Old School
Reply to  Retta Race
8 months ago

Ok, you got me. You had to go to the 3rd definition for that one, but it is listed in the dictionary that way. The more common definitions (and ones listed above yours) involve math – math where there should be 1028 BRs under 2:09 in 2019 and 2056 under in 2020 given true exponential growth. The only reason your definition is listed is because it is such a common mistake to say “exponentially” when what people mean is “really quickly”. I get it – “BRs improving a lot in last 10 years” is not as catchy a headline. And BRs are going very fast recently, just not exponentially faster. In the year 2030, they will likely not be going… Read more »

Andy Hardt
Reply to  Old School
8 months ago

I actually think she did use it correctly–looks pretty close to exponential to me! Number of sub-2:09 doubles roughly every 4 years.

https://www.desmos.com/calculator/kzrzbmucqk

Last edited 8 months ago by Andy Hardt
Andy Hardt
Reply to  Andy Hardt
8 months ago

Plus, you’d expect exponential increases in general for stats of the form “number under X:xx in a given year”.

Linear decreases in time lead to exponential increases in “number under X:xx”. For instance, look at the stats for a given year for sub-2:07 vs. sub 2:08 vs. sub 2:09. You get maybe double of triple the numbers when you go up by a second. So if the population of elite swimmers improves by one second on average, the number under a particular barrier would perhaps double in that time. The swimmers who were “just” sub-2:09 (or their successors) become the new sub-2:08 swimmers.

We could see this effect much better if we looked at an event that was rapidly improving,… Read more »

Joe
8 months ago

Breaststroke generally has improved so much recently.

Kitajima’s 58.9 and 2:07 seem somewhat pedestrian these days.

JolynnSwimmer
Reply to  Joe
8 months ago

Before the rules got changed- no dolphin kick at start/turn those days.

tea rex
Reply to  JolynnSwimmer
8 months ago

No LEGAL dolphin kick – they changed the rule rather than admit they missed the call on Kitajima.

John jay
Reply to  Joe
8 months ago

David Wilkey 2.15 in 1976 is a much better swim then 2.07 or 2.08 today.

123456
8 months ago

You should also write about how men’s 200 free and women’s 200 fly deteriorated since 2010

Last edited 8 months ago by 123456
whever
Reply to  123456
8 months ago

Last year women’s 200 fly had the slowest world leading time since 2005. That’s crazy.

2005: Jedrzejczak 2:05.61
2006: Schipper 2:05.40
2007: Jedrzejczak 2:05.92
2008: Zige 2:04.18
2009: Zige 2:01.81
2010: Jiao 2:05.46
2011: Zige 2:04.40
2012: Jiao 2:04.06
2013: Jiao 2:04.54
2014: Belmonte 2:04.79
2015: Hentke 2:05.26
2016: Belmonte 2:04.85
2017: Belmonte 2:05.26
2018: Thomas 2:05.45
2019: Flickinger 2:05.96

JimSwim22
Reply to  whever
8 months ago

Women’s 2Fl has been stagnant for 40 years. Gotta be the slowest progress of any event if u exclude the rubber suit times.

Samuli Hirsi
Reply to  whever
8 months ago

when you look those one might think that is not the better training that leads to better times but allowing technical things that were not allowed before like in breaststroke or bk starting thingy, fly have not had those

Last edited 8 months ago by Samuli Hirsi
Joe
Reply to  Samuli Hirsi
8 months ago

This doesn’t explain why 200 fly times on the men’s side have been coming down, even when you take out the GOAT from the picture.

JolynnSwimmer
Reply to  whever
8 months ago

Hasegawa to add in 2020.

NJones
Reply to  whever
8 months ago

1981 Maegher 2:05….

John jay
Reply to  NJones
8 months ago

One of beat times in history of swimming..Woodhead 1.58 as a 13 yr old too in 200 free..

Thezwimmer
Reply to  123456
8 months ago

And the men’s 400 since 2000…

John jay
Reply to  Thezwimmer
8 months ago

Agreed

Tony R
8 months ago

Barrowman took nearly 3 seconds off the record from 89-92, and that held for another 10 years. Since Kitajima broke that record in 2002, the record has had a very steady improvement, with the exception of Yamaguchi holding it for well over 4 years in 2012-2017. This article only covers the last 10 years, could easily start from 2002 to now, and it still looks crazy how much this event has improved over that time span.

DCSwim
8 months ago

I’ve been waiting for the 3000, no 4000 years for this analysis

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Swim analyst, businesswoman.

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