How World Records Have Been Distributed Between Men & Women Since 2010 Suit Ban

It’s been more than 12 years since the high-tech polyurethane suits were banned from swimming. As of today, nive world records in individual events in long course meters from 2008 and 2009 still stand (two in women’s events, seven in men’s events).

Some of those world records seems unreachable by current swimmers, such as the women’s 200 butterfly and men’s 200 freestyle. However, there are exceptions, since we have seen many world records set since 2010.

Instagram’s Swimming Stats’ page has published the distribution world records in long course meters over the years since 2010 by gender in individual events.

Across this period, we have witnessed 69 world records in individual events, 28 in men’s events and 41 in women’s events.

This is interesting, since many people thought that, after the ban of the high-tech suits at the end of 2009, it would take many years until the swimmers could break those suits-aided records. In fact, 2010 saw no world records in long course meters. However, after that, many records have fallen. Maybe many people are unaware that so many world records have been set over the last few years. After all, almost 70 world records in individual events is certainly a significant number.

Katie Ledecky, with her 14 world records, has made a huge difference in the women’s side. But there is a multiple world record-setter on the men’s side as well, since Adam Peaty has set nine world records in breaststroke events.

In 2022, there have been only one world record set so far, done by American Hunter Armstrong in the men’s 50 backstroke.

The first two world records set in long course meters after 2009 came in 2011 in men’s events (Sun Yang in the 1500 free and Ryan Lochte in the 200 medley during the 2011 World Championships). But in the years that followed, we saw many more world records in women’s events than in men’s events. For six consecutive years (2012-2017), female swimmers set five or more world records in individual events in each year, way more than male swimmers.

Curiously, since 2018, there have been more world records in men’s events. In 2019 there were five world records set by male swimmers, more than in any other year since 2010.

Some people argue that, in the first years after the high-tech suits ban, we saw more world records in women’s events because female swimmers kept on wearing suits that cover most of the body. Of course, these suits are not made of polyurethane, but still have some level of compression, supporting and easing of movement. On the other hand, the male swimmers have been allowed to wear only leg short jammers, which represents a huge difference from the full body suit from 2009. From this point of view, in terms of suits, women’s suits have been closer to those 2009 suits than men’s have. By this argument, that’s why women supposed started to break many more records before men.

With the evolution of sport, by 2018 the men reached a level that they could challenge those world records set nine years ago. That’s when they started to break world records more frequently, even surpassing women’s figures by year.

Will this pattern continue in the next years? What are your thoughts on the difference on the number of men’s and women’s world records over the last 12 years?

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Steve Johnson
9 days ago

The science supporting a tech suit advantage was inconclusive at best. I would note that Dressel’s recent attempt at a sub 20 with a tech suit did not succeed, but the main take away was to blame Dressel, rather than consider that the suit did not help. I would also note that the men’s 200 back record was set wearing only legs and no torso tech suit. I think the main “advantage” of tech suits (and shaving for that matter) is psychological. The suit manufactures produced a lot of pseudoscience during that period, but none of it was convincing.

Reply to  Steve Johnson
9 days ago

You have obviously never worn one

Magic Man
Reply to  Steve Johnson
9 days ago

Even though he didn’t break the record in the challenge, that doesn’t contribute to the theory that the suit isn’t that much of an advantage and that it is mainly mental, however I do believe that mentality plays a part. There are a lot of factors like taper (which he said he really wasn’t), the fact that he had never really worn the suit before, the racing environment, and more that went into that challenge. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. The full body suits have a greater impact on longer events, mainly 200s and up. That’s why Piersol’s 200 back seems untouchable. Furthermore, Dressel is an outlier in and of himself, so the fact that he smashed records like Phelps’s 100… Read more »

Last edited 9 days ago by Magic Man
Reply to  Magic Man
6 days ago

I agree – other factors that truly must be factored in –

  1. This was post-ISL season. While he may have still been at the tail end of any possible taper window, mostly he was past his taper point.
  2. Environment – not only was his challenge outside, but there was nobody racing him. Most people to Dressel’s ability are ultra competitive (think Phelps or Jordan) who pretty much hated losing more than even winning…that was completely removed from this attempt.

I think if Dressel were allowed to compete at a national event with the illegal suit (at a worlds or olympics) or hell, even tapered ISL, even as exhibition…just to see what would happen, would be cool. BUT,… Read more »

Reply to  Steve Johnson
9 days ago

Over 40 world records in the summer of 2009, 0 in 2010

Practice and Popsicles
Reply to  Steve Johnson
9 days ago

Congrats on writing the most braindead comment in the history of the sport

9 days ago

Well if you look at some of the mens records there are multiple where there is nobody who is gonna break them in the next year. Since we are still sorta in the same generation but slowly transitioning out that’s why more men’s records are starting to be broken. For women I feel like they peak earlier, you have so many teenagers who manage to qualify for the olympics its astonishing. Their generational talent appears quicker than the mens side.

Stanley David Gedzelman
9 days ago

The statistics, as usual, have a bias. Men’s finals have been closer, especially before the suit ban. This shows that men have been approaching some ‘limit’ more closely. So, compare the men’s and women’s records before the ban and a similar picture may show up with women breaking more records. Women are catching up, however, and it will be progressively more difficult for them to continue breaking records.

9 days ago

How do we consider the Ian Thorpe full-body suit phenomenon?

Reply to  Protin
9 days ago

It’s often been said on here that his suit did not have the buoyancy and was in fact a hindrance in some respects. But sponsorship ……. So he had to wear it.

9 days ago

There were three world records in women’s events in 2018.
Katie Ledecky in the 1500 free (15’20”48) , the Chinese Liu Xiang in the 50 backstroke (26”98) and Kathleen Baker in the 100 backstroke (58”00)

9 days ago

Men set records–it’s hard work. Women set records–it’s gotta be the suits!! Typical bs misogyny.

Reply to  Angelis
7 days ago

Everything is misogyny.

Sherry Smit
9 days ago

Sorry but that 200 Fly WR for women just seems too good.

9 days ago

Does Phelps 2008 400 IM really count as non-textile/super suit when he was just wearing lower half? (honest question)

Doesn’t seem like it was as crazy helpful as the whole super suit

Reply to  VikingSteve
9 days ago

We’ll probably never know for sure how the LZR legskin compares to a modern tech suit. But the Speedo LZR is what introduced polyurethane suits to the sport and led to following craziness of 2008-2009.

Since Phelps was still wearing a version of THE ORIGINAL SUPERSUIT the 400 IM absolutely deserves the same asterisks as Cielo’s 100 free or Liu Zige’s 200 fly.

Reply to  IM FAN
9 days ago

Oh definitely not the same asterisk (albeit an asterisk nonetheless). Those records were set by people who got inexplicably and exponentially faster with the tech suits, while Phelps improved from a time that was already the world record. And, as discussed, he just wore the legs. It was certainly an advantage, but this was also one of the best swims in history (without a doubt it’s my personal favorite).

Reply to  VikingSteve
9 days ago

Yes it does. Peirsol’s 200 back was also just the lower half I believe.

If it would be banned now then it counts as a super suit, and it would be.