On Sunday evening in Miami, Florida, the Kansas City Chiefs came from 10 points down at the start of the 4th quarter to win 31-20 over the San Francisco 49ers and win Super Bowl LIV (54). This stands as their 2nd-ever Super Bowl win, having last won in January of 1970 in Super Bowl IV (4).
A lot has changed in football in the last 50 years. The last Chiefs win came so long ago that the father of Patrick Mahomes, quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, wasn’t even born yet. Since the Chiefs last won the Super Bowl, field goals all became 10 yards longer, the merged NFL as we know it today was formed, player names were added to the backs of jerseys, the NFL season was expanded to 16 games, numerous player safety rules were instituted, and generally, the game is almost unrecognizable as to what the style of play was 50 years ago.
Similarly, the sport of swimming has changed a ton in the last 50 years. 50 years ago, there was no such thing as the FINA Swimming World Championships – an event that launched for the first time in 1973. Some of the fundamental ideals that today we recognize as an unalienable part of the sport didn’t even exist: goggles were still viewed as ‘training equipment,’ with the first person to use them in international competition believed to be Britain’s David Wilkie a few months after the 1970 Super Bowl at the Commonwealth Games (source: International Swimming Hall of Fame). In 1970, the 50 freestyle still wasn’t an Olympic event, and there were no World Records in any of the 50 meter races.
USA Swimming wouldn’t even be founded for another 10 years after the Chiefs last were champions of the football world.
The suit technology, common use of swim caps (Mark Spitz didn’t wear one nor cut his hair particularly short in 1972 when he won 7 Olympic golds), the development of underwater swimming, and a ton of technique changes have all led to big changes in times. The last time the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, for example, every World Record in men’s swimming was slower than the current World Record in women’s swimming.
Using the Chiefs’ drought as a yardstick to measure the passage of time, we wanted to look back at how World Records have evolved in the last 50 years. See the table below focusing on long course times (short course meters World Records are another thing that weren’t kept in 1970).
- Women’s World Records on average have improved by 12.28%, while men’s World Records on average have improved by 11.17%.
- For the men, the breaststrokes (by 13.56% and 13.26%, respectively) have seen the biggest improvements. For the women, it’s the butterfly races (by 13.98% and 13.61%, respectively).
- Mike Burton‘s 800 free World Record has improved by 11.14%, as compared to just 9.69% for his World Record in the 1500 free. That’s as compared to the women’s equivalents, which have improved by a much more similar percentage. Coupled with just a 9.81% improvement in Hans-Joachim Fassnacht’s 400 free World Record, this highlights what an extreme outlier Zhang Lin‘s 7:32 in the 800 free is.
- 50 years ago, World Records were limited to only 7 countries (if we count Germany and East Germany separately): USA, Australia, Germany/East Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, and the USSR. Today, 10 countries are represented by the same events that existed in 1970.
- While Australia does have 7 World Records today, 5 of them are in short course events and 2 are in long course relays. None of those 7 World Records are in individual events that World Records were recorded in 50 years ago. In 1970, they held 3 individual long course World Records.
- 50 years ago, only 8 men and 8 women held individual World Records. In these same events today, 12 men and 8 women hold records. Only 1 man, Paul Biedermann, currently holds multiple World Records among these reference distances, showing an increase in specialization in modern swimming. Even the great Michael Phelps currently only has 1 individual World Record remaining, in the 400 IM.
50 Years of Individual World Records in Swimming
|52.2 – Michael Wenden, Australia||46.91 – Cesar Cielo, Brazil||10.13%||100 free||58.9 – Dawn Fraser, Australia||51.71 – Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden||12.21%|
|1:54.3 – Mark Spitz, USA||1:42.00 – Paul Biedermann, Germany||10.76%||200 free||2:06.7 – Debbie Meyer, USA||1:52.98 – Federica Pellegrini, Italy||10.83%|
|4:04.0 – Hans-Joachim Fassnacht, Germany||3:40.07 – Paul Biedermann, Germany||9.81%||400 free||4:24.5 – Debbie Meyer, USA||3:56.46 – Katie Ledecky, USA||10.60%|
|8:28.8 – Mike Burton, USA||7:32.12 – Zhang Lin, China||12.91%||800 free||9:10.4 – Debbie Meyer, USA||8:04.79 – Katie Ledecky, USA||11.92%|
|16:04.5 – Mke Burton, USA||14:31.02 – Sun Yang, China||9.69%||1500 free||17:19.9 – Debbie Meyer, USA||15:20.48 – Katie Ledecky, USA||11.48%|
|57.8 – Roland Matthes, East Germany||51.85 – Ryan Murphy, USA||10.29%||100 back||1:05.6 – Karen Muir, South Africa||57.57 – Regan Smith, USA||12.24%|
|2:06.6 – Roland Matthes, East Germany & Gary Hall, USA||1:51.92 – Aaron Peirsol, USA||11.60%||200 back||2:21.5 – Susie Atwood, USA||2:03.35 – Regan Smith, USA||12.83%|
|1:05.8 – Nikolai Pankin, USSR||56.88 – Adam Peaty, Great Britain||13.56%||100 breast||1:14.2 – Catie Ball, USA||1:04.13 – Lilly King, USA||13.57%|
|2:25.4 – Nikolai Pankin, USSR||2:06.12 – Anton Chupkov, Russia||13.26%||200 breast||2:38.5 – Catie Ball, USA||2:19.11 – Rikke-Moeller Pederson, Denmark||12.23%|
|55.6 – Mark Spitz, USA||49.50 – Caeleb Dressel, USA||10.97%||100 fly||1:04.5 – Ada Kok, Netherlands||55.48 – Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden||13.98%|
|2:05.7 – Mark Spitz, USA||1:50.73 – Kristof Milak, Hungary||11.91%||200 fly||2:21.0 – Ada Kok, Netherlands||2:01.81 – Liu Zige, China||13.61%|
|2:09.6 – Gary Hall, USA||1:54.00 – Ryan Lochte, USA||12.04%||200 IM||2:23.5 – Claudia Kolb, USA||2:06.12 – Katinka Hosszu, Hungary||12.11%|
|4:31.0 – Gary Hall, USA||4:03.84 – Michael Phelps, USA||10.02%||400 IM||5:02.97 – Gail Neall, Australia||4:26.36 – Katinka Hosszu, Hungary||12.08%|