Mathematically Speaking: How Do Smith/Finke Records Compare To Dressel?

by Barry Revzin 74

February 25th, 2020 College, News, Opinion, SEC

Last week during the SEC Championships, Florida sophomores Kieran Smith and Bobby Finke rewrote the distance freestyle record books – settings marks of 4:06.32 in the 500y and 14:12.08 in the 1650y, respectively. At this point, Florida very nearly owns all of the men’s freestyle records, missing only the 200y free (an event in which Kieran Smith is the 4th-fastest all time and still has NCAAs in a few weeks to improve further).

One USA Swimming coach posed the question on Facebook shortly after Finke’s swim, asking “so this is as impressive as Dressel, right?”

Ignoring the question of ‘versatility’ (Caeleb Dressel made history in so many races), on a single event scale that got us thinking about how it does compare to Dressel’s historic swims of 2 years ago. 

We thought it would be interesting to try to contextualize what a 4:06 and 14:12 actually mean as far as swimming history goes, and we don’t just mean quote-tweeting Zane Grothe, whose records they beat. Let’s start by going back in time. Way back to a bygone era, long before these swimmers were even born.

The year is 1995. Tom Dolan just broke the records in the 500y and 1650y freestyles himself, setting new standards of 4:08.75 and 14:29.31. The other freestyle records at the time were several years old: Tom Jager‘s 19.05 from 1990 and Matt Biondi‘s 41.80 and 1:33.03 from 1987.

Event 1995 Record 2020 Record
50 Free 19.05 17.63
100 Free 41.80 39.9
200 Free 1:33.03 1:29.15
500 Free 4:08.75 4:06.32
1650 Free 14:29.31 14:12.08

In 25 years, the 500 free record has gotten 2.43 seconds faster. Meanwhile the 200 free record has dropped nearly 4 seconds, and even the 100 free record has dropped 1.9!

In percentage terms, this is quite stark: the 500 free record has gotten just 1.0% faster, the mile 2.0% faster, while the 200 free has improved by 4.2%, the 100 free by 4.5%, and the 50 free by a totally nonsensical 7.5%.

But we all know Dressel is an extreme outlier. Let’s compare the 1995 records instead to the second fastest performer:

Event 1995 2020 – 2nd Performer All-Time
2020 Rank of 1995 Record
50 Free 19.05 18.47 51st
100 Free 41.8 40.76 41st
200 Free 1:33.03 1:29.50 71st
500 Free 4:08.75 4:07.25 6th
1650 Free 14:29.31 14:18.25 18th

This may be a better way of looking at it. The distance events have improved by just 0.6% and 1.3% in the last quarter century, while the shorter events have advanced by 3.0%, 2.5%, and 3.8% respectively. Dolan’s times still rank in the top 25 performers all-time. Meanwhile, just last year, there were 12 splits in the 800 free relay at NCAAs under 1:32. 19.0 and 41.8 are still very fast times, but 1:33.0 won’t even make some school’s relays. And as of last year, thanks to Carson Foster, the National High School Record (1:32.99) is under 1:33 as well.

While the distance events haven’t improved as much as the shorter ones, how far ahead are Smith and Finke from their competition, as compared to Dressel and Dean Farris? Dressel’s marks are 4.5% (the 50) and 2.1% (The 100) faster than the second best performer. The other three are much closer: Farris’ and Smith’s marks are just 0.4% ahead of second-best, while Finke put a little more distance on the distance event – he’s a full 0.7% ahead of Grothe’s old mark.

Showing the above in a slightly different light, let’s look at the top two times of the year 2020 so far, including the two new records:

Event 1995 Record 2020 – #1 2020 – #2
50 Free 19.05 18.98 19.07
100 Free 41.8 41.81 41.82
200 Free 1:33.03 1:30.11 1:32.05
500 Free 4:08.75 4:06.32 4:10.77
1650 Free 14:29.31 14:12.08 14:45.03

In other words, Matt Biondi‘s 41.80 from 1987 would still be the top time, while Jager’s and Dolan’s marks would be 2nd. It’s only the 200 free that has fallen back a bit – it would be 6th.

Altogether, Kieran Smith’s and Bobby Finke’s swims are incredible accomplishments. And we’re excited to see what they still have in store at NCAAs. The distance events have lagged their shorter counterparts by quite a bit over the last couple decades – to keep up with a 4% level of improvement over 25 years, they would have to shoot for a 3:58.80 and 13:54.54, respectively. Those times might sound completely absurd, because they are completely absurd. But so was 1:29 not too long ago.

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Cool article

GA Boy

also known as…… we are soft. grinding out work really works, garbage yardage isn’t, and we’ve done ourselves a disserves steering away from longer events and thinking sprinting is cooler.


Sir this is a Wendy’s


Oh snap

Foreign Embassy

Best comment of 2020 thus far 👏🏽


but sprinting is cooler

A Distance Swimmer

Sprinting is cooler.


GA Boy, and the number of down votes you are getting vs up votes proves your point.

GA Boy

Data doesn’t lie, neither does the fact that those beasts in the 80s and 90s were doing 10k plus 3 or more times a week.

Ol' Longhorn

Geez. In the 70’s nearly everyone (regardless of event) was going 15-20K a day. The sprinters were going 10k 3 or more times a week.

Big Kicker

Amazing how out of shape those wimpy distance swimmers are. Can you imagine how much faster Finke and Smith would’ve gone if they weren’t so “soft”? Ridiculous comment

GA Boy

That’s my point, Florida is one of the few places that expects the old ways from their swimmers. It proves my point even more. “Garbage yardage and other things that work” is written by the great Greg Troy. They are good at these things because they have a culture of work.

I’m not sure if you heard…but Gregg Troy retired. Both of these guys are sophomores, which means that Gregg Troy retired before they began their college careers (no idea how much overlap they get with Troy, maybe in the summers?)


You must not know much about Gregg, Anthony, their 35 year relationship, or how Florida operates. Gregg did not retire from coaching first of all, and Anthony is perhaps THE toughest swimmer Gregg ever coached. No offense to Ratapong (Nuk) Sirisanont, and many others. Did you hear Nesty’s interview? When asked what they could do to move forward from such great performances his answer was classic Troy/Nesty, “They need to eat some humble pie and we are going to get back to Gainesville and continue to do things “The Florida Way”.


are you arguing that a guy retired, but didn’t stop coaching? -so he just got tired of getting paid/having health insurance..? sure bud

GA Boy

Nesty coached with Troy for years, they are doing the same type of work. Swam for Troy in his swimming days and is arguably a bigger advocate for huge yardage than his coach. They go hard and see good results…

Ol' Longhorn

Braden, if your point was to give some credit to Nesty, good, because it’s deserved. But neither guy should get all the credit for anyone since they’ve both been coaching. That culture and those training insights were built by both guys over the years. It wasn’t just Troy. And it’s not all Nesty now. He still benefits from Troy being on deck. There’s only one indoor LCM pool in Gainesville or for nearly 100 miles. Regardless, both guys are just outstanding, humble humans who are masters at their craft. Nesty is the only individual Olympic champion (I think) to amount to such a successful college head coach.


GA boys comments are correct and logical. The fact that he gets down votes just because he isn’t brimming with compliments and confirmation bias on our current training techniques nationally does not mean he is wrong. Just because Greg Troy isn’t the college coach anymore doesn’t mean his impression isn’t ever lasting at Florida.

GA Boy

Full disclosure, I was also referring to more on a club level. Many athletes miss out on an opportunity to get really good in longer races because many club coaches do not push that type of work.

Aquaticus Porter

Another related question is: would Smith and Finke have even been in the ballpark of NCAA records if the Sun Yang’s / Ian Thorpe’s of the world had swum NCAA? Also obviously applies to Breaststroke events


Probably, Agnel was “only” a 4:10 iirc and he has the word record in the 400 scm.


2012 agnel would’ve definitely been 1:27/ 3:59 or faster


SwimSwam’s time converter clocks Thorpe at 4:06.57. Although extremely fast, even more so when he set it 2002, it doesn’t feel right considering he dropped the 400m record by almost 4 seconds


Not sure Thorpe was as dominant in short course as he was in long course. His SCM 200 best time is on par w Blake P’s best time


Not fair to compare times directly to a swimmer who grew up thinking any race not in a 50m pool didn’t count


Im sure Blake P grew up thinking the same w regards to SCM. Along the same lines, Dressel had no clue what the WR was in 50 free SCM when he up until he broke it 2 months ago


One of the few times I call into question Dressel’s statements… he HAD to know the world record or at least roughly where it stood prior to breaking it. If not, and he’s breaking Manaudou’s record without even knowing it, that’s a fat >Disrespect towards Manaudou


i dunno but if they listened to rigor mortis they might’ve gone faster

Ol' Longhorn

Sun Yang probably would’ve been expelled from college his freshman year.