This morning at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, American swimmer Annie Lazor dropped two seconds from her lifetime best in the women’s 200m breaststroke to take the second seed heading into finals. Lazor’s time was a 2:26.37, a very solid swim.
Just 10 years ago, that time would have earned Lazor a bronze medal at the world championships. Now, not to take away from Lazor’s swim and massive time drop, but it seems as though swims in that time range are becoming an average occurrence.
The women’s 200m breaststroke is an event that has seen dramatic improvements in the last 10 years with much of the drop happening after the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Just ten years ago Leisel Jones of Australia became the first woman ever to swim under 2:22, dropping seven-tenths of a second from Amanda Beard’s world record and recording a 2:21.72. She did that at the 2005 World Championships in Montreal where all it took was a 2:28.82 to make the final, and to get on the podium it took only a 2:27.11.
Two years later the world sped up and it took a 2:27.62 to qualify for the finals at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. It took a 2:25.94 to get on the podium.
In Beijing, the world stepped up, and was subjected to the new Speedo LZR Racer suits that helped topple plenty of world records both before and after the 2008 Olympic Games. In Beijing it took a 2:25.65 to make the final and a 2:23.02 to medal. Just from 2007 to 2008, there was clearly a huge drop; a time that would gave gotten second at the World Championships just a year prior wouldn’t have even made the final in Beijing.
Like the 2007-08 season, the 2008-09 season showed another huge drop, much due to the creation of the polyurethane body suits. At the World Championships in Rome a 2:22.92 was the eighth fastest time from the semifinals, and a podium spot consisted of at least a 2:21.97. That race was highlighted by Canadian Annamay Pierse, who never won an Olympic or World Championship medal before that meet or since that meet, swimming a semi-final 2:20.12 to break the World Record.
At the 2011 World Championships following the ban of the full body suits, the times were close to what they were in 2008. A 2:25.56 got you in the championship final and a 2:24.81 got you on the podium, but nobody was really scaring Pierse’s mark.
The 2012 Olympic Games proved that the women’s 200m breaststroke was one of the most improved events in the world. It took a 2:24.46 to make the Olympic final, over a second faster than what it took in Beijing, and without the full body suits. To get on the podium it took a 2:20.92, showing that the 200m breaststroke was even faster than it was even in Rome.
Ever since the 2012 the 200m breaststroke has never been the same. All three swimmers who earned podium placements were under 2:21, and American breaststroker Rebecca Soni set a new world record en route to becoming the first woman ever under 2:20 in the 200m breaststroke. Since that one final, it seems as though the event has forever changed. Time expectations are completely different now. A good swim from 2012 might just be considered average in 2015.
The 2015 world rankings show the continued evolution of this event. There are two very important things to consider when looking at the statistical date for 2015. One is the fact that the World Championships, World Junior Championships, Pan Am Games 200 breaststroke final, and the US Nationals have not taken place yet. The second is that this is a pre-Olympic year, so it’s best to compare a pre-Olympic year to another pre-Olympic year.
To really show how much the 200m breaststroke has changed since that 2012 Olympic final, you need to look at data from 2011. In 2011 there were 79 swimmers who went under 2:30 in the 200m breaststroke for a combined 241 swims under the 2:30 mark.
In 2015, without the three referenced major championship meets, there have been 103 swimmers under 2:30 for a total of 445 swims under 2:30. Of those 445 swims, 105 of them were a 2:25.99 or better. So far in 2015, 20 women have gone 2:25.99 or better.
In the 2015 season 12 swimmers have put up a time that would have qualified them for the final at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Fourteen swimmers have posted a time that would have made finals at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona. Well over 25 women have posted times that would have earned them a semi-final swim at either meet.
The fact is, 2:29 isn’t fast anymore, and a 2:25 200 breaststroke is becoming average. There are so many athletes now capable of putting up a 200m breaststroke time in that range, that it’s nothing special like it used to be.
2:29 has gone from average to obsolete, a 2:25 has gone from a top-ranked swim to average, and instead of swimmers gunning for under 2:25, the world is looking at the 2:20 mark as the new barrier in the women’s 200m breaststroke.