Maggie MacNeil & Emre Sakci’s Insane 50m World Records, Contextualized

In the span of one week, two 50-meter world records weren’t just broken, but were absolutely demolished.

At the 2021 Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi, Canadian Maggie MacNeil torched the world record in the women’s 50 backstroke by 33 one-hundredths of a second, clocking 25.27 to down Kira Toussaint‘s old mark of 25.60 en route to winning the world title.

Seven days later, Turkey’s Emre Sakci broke the men’s 50 breaststroke record by a similar margin, producing a time of 24.95 to shatter the previous record of 25.25, held jointly by Cameron van der Burgh (2009) and Ilya Shymanovich (2021).

When a world record is broken, period, it’s something special. When one falls by a big margin, that’s next level. Along with MacNeil, one of the other world records set in Abu Dhabi came in the men’s 1500 freestyle, where Florian Wellbrock crushed the mark by 1.18 seconds in 14:06.88.

While that swim was sensational, the race is 30x longer than the events in which MacNeil and Sakci broke their world records, and his WR margin was less than 4x as big as theirs.

It’s apples and oranges, to an extent, but Wellbrock’s world record swim would be similar to MacNeil clocking 25.56 in the 50 back and Sakci going 25.21 in the 50 breast, instead of what their actual swims were.

50m Records Broken By Similar Margins

Looking at 50-meter races specifically, breaking the world record by a margin of three-tenths or more is a very rare feat, though it has happened a few times in the last decade.

Outside of MacNeil and Sakci’s swims, two other current world records were broken by a margin greater than three-tenths, both from 2014.

In July 2014, Sarah Sjostrom lowered the women’s 50 butterfly world record by 53 one-hundredths, from 25.07 to 24.43, which has not been broken since.

Five months later at the Short Course World Championships, Florent Manaudou took out the men’s 50 back all-time mark by 39 one-hundredths, clocking 22.22 to extinguish Peter Marshall‘s previous mark of 22.61.

Other recent examples of 50-meter world records getting broken by relatively significant margins include:

  • At the 2017 Long Course World Championships, Adam Peaty broke his world record in the men’s 50 breaststroke by .32 in the prelims, taking the mark down from 26.42 to 26.10. Then, in the semi-finals, he re-lowered that time down to 25.95, giving him a total of .47 off the record in one day.
  • At the 2013 Worlds, a similar situation arose in the women’s event. Yuliya Efimova broke the world record by .02 in the heats, clocking 29.78, and then Ruta Meilutyte knocked three-tenths off of that in the semis in 29.48, meaning the all-time mark had been lowered by .32 in one day.
  • The world record in the men’s 50 fly was demolished in both long course and short course meters in 2009. Rafael Munoz broke the LCM record by .53, from 22.96 to 22.43, and Steffen Deibler bettered the SCM mark by .38, 22.18 to 21.80.

Prior to Sakci, the last time the world record in the men’s SCM 50 breast was broken by a margin of three-tenths or greater came in 2009, when Cameron van der Burgh took his own record down from 25.94 to 25.43.

In the women’s SCM 50 back, Zhao Jing brought the record down by a total of 35 one-hundredths across two swims (26.17 to 26.08 in prelims, 26.08 to 25.82 in the final) in 2009, while the last time it was done in a single swim came from Sanja Jovanovic in December 2007 (26.83 to 26.50).

So while breaking a 50-meter world record by the margins that MacNeil and Sakci did is extremely rare, it’s not unheard of, it just takes an exceptional talent (and sometimes a super-suit aid) to do so.

FINA Points Perspective

Diving into the FINA points table, both Sakci and MacNeil’s swims were off the charts. Not literally, because the tables go way up to levels much quicker than humans are currently capable of, but still, when contextualized across other events, the results are significant.

MacNeil’s 25.27 in the 50 back earned 1039 FINA points, narrowly edging out Sakci’s 1036.

To give you an idea of how MacNeil’s swim stacks up in this scoring system, here’s a look at the times required to score 1039 FINA points in women’s SCM events, along with the current world record and what it took to win gold at the SC Worlds.

Along with the 50 back, the FINA points table has not been updated since the world record was broken in the women’s 200 free.

Event Current WR 1039 FINA Points Swim
2021 SC Worlds Gold
50 free 22.93 22.64 23.08
100 free 50.25 49.61 50.98
200 free 1:50.31 1:49.03 1:50.31
400 free 3:53.92 3:50.95 3:55.83
800 free 7:59.34 7:53.26 8:02.90
1500 free 15:18.01 15:06.37
100 back 54.89 54.19 55.20
200 back 1:58.94 1:57.43 2:01.58
50 breast 28.56 28.19 29.34
100 breast 1:02.36 1:01.57 1:03.47
200 breast 2:14.57 2:12.86 2:17.85
50 fly 24.38 24.07 24.44
100 fly 54.59 53.91 55.04
200 fly 1:59.61 1:58.09 2:03.01
100 IM 56.51 55.79 57.8
200 IM 2:01.86 2:00.31 2:04.29
400 IM 4:18.94 4:15.65 4:25.55

Here’s the same chart for men, but with Sakci’s 1036 score instead of MacNeil’s 1039.

Along with the 50 breast, the FINA points table has not been updated since the world record was broken in the men’s 100 free, 1500 free or 100 breast.

Event Current WR 1036 FNA Points Swim
2021 SC Worlds Gold
50 free 20.16 19.92 20.46
100 free 44.84 44.41 45.57
200 free 1:39.37 1:38.20 1:41.60
400 free 3:32.25 3:29.76 3:35.90
800 free 7:23.42 7:18.22
1500 free 14:06.88 13:58.12 14:06.88
50 back 22.22 21.96 22.66
100 back 48.33 47.76 49.23
200 back 1:45.63 1:44.39 1:48.68
50 breast 24.95 24.95 25.53
100 breast 55.28 54.69 55.70
200 breast 2:00.16 1:58.75 2:02.28
50 fly 21.75 21.49 21.93
100 fly 47.78 47.22 48.87
200 fly 1:48.24 1:46.97 1:49.06
100 IM 49.28 48.70 51.09
200 IM 1:49.63 1:48.34 1:51.15
400 IM 3:54.81 3:52.05 3:56.26

Looking at how far out of reach basically all of those times are speaks to the level MacNeil and Sakci rose to deliver those swims.

FINA points are assigned every year based on the current world record. You can read more on the formula here.

It may not be a perfect measurement of the significance of a swim, especially when there are world records out there that haven’t been seriously approached by this generation’s crop of swimmers in some time (the men’s LCM 200 and 800 free, and the women’s LCM 200 fly, for example). Though not exactly the same, Manaudou’s 50 back record could be lumped into that category, too.

But it does help provide context for how much a swimmer crushed the previous record, especially in a 50, where a margin of two or three-tenths might not sound all that significant to the non-hardcore fan.

Here’s a look at the same charts as above, but for long course meters and with the Tokyo Olympic winning swims.

Note that the world records in the women’s 100 back and 50 breast have been lowered since the last time the points tables have been updated.

Event Current WR 1039 FINA Points Swim
2021 Olympic Gold
50 free 23.67 23.37 23.81
100 free 51.71 51.05 51.96
200 free 1:52.98 1:51.54 1:53.50
400 free 3:56.46 3:53.46 3:56.69
800 free 8:04.79 7:58.64 8:12.57
1500 free 15:20.48 15:08.81 15:37.34
50 back 26.98 26.64
100 back 57.45 56.84 57.47
200 back 2:03.35 2:01.78 2:04.68
50 breast 29.30 29.02
100 breast 1:04.13 1:03.31 1:04.95
200 breast 2:18.95 2:17.34 2:18.95
50 fly 24.43 24.12
100 fly 55.48 54.77 55.59
200 fly 2:01.81 2:00.26 2:03.86
200 IM 2:06.12 2:04.52 2:08.52
400 IM 4:26.36 4:22.98 4:32.08

Note that the world records in the men’s 50 back and 100 fly have been lowered since the last time the points tables have been updated.

Event Current WR 1036 FINA Points Swim
2021 Olympic Gold
50 free 20.91 20.66 21.07
100 free 46.91 46.36 47.02
200 free 1:42.00 1:40.80 1:44.22
400 free 3:40.07 3:37.49 3:43.36
800 free 7:32.12 7:26.82 7:41.87
1500 free 14:31.02 14:20.81 14:39.65
50 back 23.80 23.72
100 back 51.85 51.24 51.98
200 back 1:51.92 1:50.60 1:53.27
50 breast 25.95 25.64
100 breast 56.88 56.21 57.37
200 breast 2:06.12 2:04.64 2:06.38
50 fly 22.27 22.01
100 fly 49.45 48.92 49.45
200 fly 1:50.73 1:49.43 1:51.25
200 IM 1:54.00 1:52.66 1:55.00
400 IM 4:03.84 4:00.98 4:09.42

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Human Ambition
6 months ago

Sarah’s 24,43 gave her a 1080 FINA pts at the moment. Highest ever by far (non suited) I believe.

Last edited 6 months ago by Human Ambition
Tomer
6 months ago

Can’t really compare esacki WR big margin because of 2 dolphin kicks first 25…..

Andy Hardt
6 months ago

This was a cool article, but I think the main takeaway is that FINA points are not very useful for comparing world records across events and courses.

HJones
Reply to  Andy Hardt
6 months ago

It’s because they are reset/rescaled after WRs are broken, or at least when they were first established took the current WRs into account. These 50 bk and 50 br times are impressive, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out they aren’t anywhere close to the league of a 1:42.0 men’s 200 fr. Points fail to consider times that were achieved under literal superhuman circumstances.

Frank the Tank
Reply to  Andy Hardt
6 months ago

I agree.
Taking it one step further, this article also demonstrates how flawed the Universality selection process is since they primarily use FINA Points (FP) to compare athletes accross events. In this scenario, putting all WRs at 1000 FPs assumes that they are all equally impressive.

Meanwhile, in LCM WRs, Sarah Sjostrom is the only person who has even come within 2.5% in the 50m Fly of her own WR. While dozens of people have come within that same percentage in other events like the men’s and women’s 200 breaststroke, or the men’s 100 free.

Having so many people nearing in on the WR was an indicator that it was bound to be broken very soon, i.e. women’s 200… Read more »

Samboys
6 months ago

I wonder what the most fina point scored is, has anyone broken 1050?

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  Samboys
6 months ago

That’s a great question ! You would have to find a WR that’s lower than 98.386% of that year’s FINA reference time (LCM it’s the WR at the 31st december of the last year, and SCM it’s the 31st of August). Maybe in 2009 ?

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

Rome was pretty wild point-wise :
1062 pts for Britta Steffen’s 50free WR
1081 pts for Britta Steffen’s 100free WR
1075 pts for Federica Pellegrini’s 200free WR
1051 pts for Federica Pellegrini’s 400free WR
1108 pts for King Zhao’s 50 back WR
1058 pts for Gemma Spofforth’s 100 back WR
1052 pts for Kirsty Coventry’s 200 back WR
1058 pts for Yulyia Efimova’s 50 breast WR
1072 pts for Rebecca Soni’s 100 breast SF WR
1057 pts for Annamay Persay’s 200 breast SF WR
1098 pts for Therese Alshammar’s 50 fly SF WR
1063 pts for Sarah Sjostrom’s 100 fly WR…..
So yeah as expected, quite a… Read more »

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

Schoeman’s SCM 50 free WR from 2009 has 1122pts, highest score I could find

Last edited 6 months ago by CasualSwimmer
Samboys
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

I should have expected that. You kind of forget how absurd 2009 was.

Parker528
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

Excellent question by SamBoys. And again, great work in answering with that 2009 chart. In reading the point the author was making about how extraordinarily unusual- or rare- it is for a WR drop in 50 races by half a second or a bit faster, I couldn’t help but think about other “what if’s: had the FINA point system been in place as early as, say the late 70’s. And how many points Mary T’s 100 fly record in ’81 would have received. Because that’s 100 fly LCM, the record as of Dec 31 1980 was her own 59.26. Then in one race she drops a two lap swim WR down to 57.93, a total drop of 1.33 seconds. And… Read more »

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
6 months ago

I have to think that 15:06 SCM would be very doable for a slightly rested Ledecky.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
6 months ago

She’s been 15:03 in 1650 yards, which is 9 metres longer but with 6 more turns.

Hank
6 months ago

Underwater footage from Turkey please. Oh there isn’t any?

Teddy
Reply to  Hank
6 months ago

Was there for the previous world record? Do people think that record is legal?

Riley
6 months ago

As soon as I started seeing the 1039/1036 point comparisons I scrolled down hoping LCM was done as well so I could see things like Sjostrom’s 50 fly, Zige’s 200 fly, Zhang 800 and Biedermann records. 3:37 and 7:26 are comical on the men’s side, almost sub 2:00 women’s 200 fly. Insane.

Dan
6 months ago

Would be interesting to see which events have improved the most since the ban of the super suits (which current world record scores the most points based on the World Records from 2010-01-01).

dddddddd
Reply to  Dan
6 months ago

i speculate the women’s 100 back or men’s 100/200 breast

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  Dan
6 months ago

Okay, so this took a bit longer than I anticipated but using FINA’s formula, their rankings (to retrieve the super-suited WRs) and the WRs as of right now, we get this ranking for LC events :

LC events Current WR 2010 WR Pts
Men 100m breaststroke 56.88 58.58 1092,4
Men 50m breaststroke 25.95 26.67 1085,6
Women 50m butterfly 24.43 25.07 1080,7
Women 1500m freestyle 15:20.48 15:42.54 1073,6
Women 800m freestyle 8:04.79 8:14.10 1058,7
Women 50m breaststroke 29.30 29.80 1052,1
Women 200m backstroke 2:03.35 2:04.81 1035,9
Women 100m backstroke 57.45 58.12 1035,4
Women 400m individual medley 4:26.36 4:29.45 1035,2
Women 400m freestyle 3:56.46 3:59.15 1034,5
Women 100m butterfly 55.48… Read more »

CasualSwimmer
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

And here is for SC :

SC events   Current WR   2010 WR   Pts
Men   100m individual medley   49.28   50.76   1092,83
Women   200m individual medley   2:01.86   2:04.60   1068,98
Women   100m individual medley   56.51   57.74   1066,73
Men   50m backstroke   22.22   22.61   1053,58
Men   200m individual medley   1:49.63   1:51.55   1053,47
Women   50m backstroke   25.27   25.70   1051,92
Women   100m freestyle   50.25   51.01   1046,06
Men   100m butterfly   47.78   48.48   1044,6
Women   50m freestyle   22.93   23.25   1042,45
Men   100m backstroke   48.33   48.94   1038,34
Men   50m breaststroke   24.95   25.25   1036,51
Women   1500m freestyle   15:18.01   15:28.65   1035,18
Women   800m freestyle   7:59.34   8:04.53   1032,84
Men   400m individual medley   3:54.81   3:57.27   1031,76
Women   200m backstroke   1:58.94   2:00.18   1031,6
Women   200m butterfly   1:59.61   2:00.78   1029,63
Women   100m butterfly   54.59   55.05   1025,49
Women   50m breaststroke   28.56   28.80   1025,42
Women   400m individual medley   4:18.94   4:21.04   1024,53
Men   200m butterfly   1:48.24   1:49.11   1024,31
Women   200m freestyle   1:50.31   1:51.17   1023,57
Men   50m freestyle   20.16   20.30   1020,98
Women   100m backstroke   54.89   55.23   1018,7
Men   100m breaststroke   55.28   55.61   1018,02
Women   100m breaststroke   1:02.36   1:02.70   1016,45
Men   200m backstroke   1:45.63   1:46.11   1013,69
Women   400m freestyle   3:53.92   3:54.92   1012,88
Men   200m breaststroke   2:00.16   2:00.67   1012,79
Men   1500m freestyle   14:06.88   14:10.10   1011,45
Men   400m freestyle   3:32.25   3:32.77   1007,37
Men   50m butterfly   21.75   21.80   1006,91
Men   100m freestyle   44.84   44.94   1006,71

Men   200m freestyle   1:39.37   1:39.37   1000
Men   800m freestyle   7:23.42   7:23.42   1000
Women   200m breaststroke   2:14.57   2:14.57   1000
Women   50m butterfly   24.38   24.38   1000

Last edited 6 months ago by CasualSwimmer
Swimfan
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

Caeleb Remel literally demolished that 100 IM WR. What an animal !!!

Parker528
Reply to  CasualSwimmer
6 months ago

CasualSwimmer: Thank you for figuring that whole thing out for us, and especially for covering both SCM and LCM. I haven’t read the points formula system, but in reading this article I was curious whether or not there’s extra point consideration given for WR’s broken in the same race & length, AND by the same margin in the same calendar year, one done in LCM with half as many flip turns, & the other with extra flip turns in SCM. Great work! Thank you.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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