Michael Phelps Hits 20-Year Anniversary Of Owning The 400 IM World Record

On August 15, 2002, Michael Phelps and Erik Vendt had an epic showdown at the U.S. Summer Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., going head-to-head in the final of the men’s 400 IM.

The world record in the event had been held by Tom Dolan for nearly eight years, having clocked 4:12.30 at the 1994 World Championships before lowering the mark down to 4:11.76 at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Vendt, who was the silver medalist in those 2000 Games in a time of 4:14.23, had a personal best of 4:13.89 set at that year’s Olympic Trials coming into the 2002 Nationals, while Phelps, just 17 at the time, had put up a time of 4:14.15 at the Janet Evans Invitational one month prior.

It was truly a race for the ages, as we saw Phelps lean on his butterfly prowess early, opening up a 2.6-second lead on Vendt after the opening 100 meters, and then he extended the advantage on backstroke.

Vendt, 21 at the time, made a charge on the breaststroke leg, bringing the advantage down to about half a second at the 300, and then swam up alongside Phelps on the first 50 of free as the two men flipped virtually even with each other at the final wall.

The roar of excitement from the crowd when they made the turn let you know that something special was taking place.

Phelps used a dynamic underwater to open a small lead, and Vendt nearly pulled even with him down the stretch before Phelps managed to out-sprint him and get his hand on the wall first.

Phelps touched in 4:11.09, and Vendt in 4:11.27, both well under Dolan’s previous world record of 4:11.76.

Split Comparison

Phelps Vendt
26.16 27.45
55.97 (29.81) 58.57 (31.12)
1:27.90 (31.93) 1:31.00 (32.43)
1:59.38 (31.48) 2:02.79 (31.79)
2:36.06 (36.68) 2:37.92 (35.13)
3:13.14 (37.08) 3:13.66 (35.74)
3:43.54 (30.40) 3:43.40 (29.74)
4:11.09 (27.55) 4:11.27 (27.87)

Race Video

This swim was a sign of things to come for Phelps. After qualifying for the Sydney Olympics and placing fifth in the 200 fly, and then winning the world title and breaking the world record in the event the following year, he had now made his first major impact in a different event, one that showed off his incredible level of versatility.

For the next two years, Phelps lowered the world record on five separate occasions, culminating with a 1-2 finish with Vendt at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. There, Phelps won gold by more than three and a half seconds in 4:08.26.

He then lopped more than two seconds off that mark at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, and then broke it two more times for good measure in 2008, first going 4:05.25 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in an epic dual with Ryan Lochte before putting together arguably the greatest performance of his career under the most pressure an athlete in this sport could ever face.

With the world watching as Phelps embarked on his attempt to win a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Phelps swam his way to a time of 4:03.84, shattering his previous record by 1.41 seconds and setting a mark that no one has been able to touch since.

While the suit advancement played a small part, the improvement Phelps made from the age 17 to 23 is massive, and it’s interesting to look at where it came from. He dropped over seven seconds in that time, and five of them came over the middle 200, including taking off more than three seconds on the breaststroke leg.

Split Comparison

Phelps, 2002 Phelps, 2008
26.16 25.73
55.97 (29.81) 54.92 (29.19)
1:27.90 (31.93) 1:26.29 (31.37)
1:59.38 (31.48) 1:56.49 (30.20)
2:36.06 (36.68) 2:31.26 (34.77)
3:13.14 (37.08) 3:07.05 (35.79)
3:43.54 (30.40) 3:35.99 (28.94)
4:11.09 (27.55) 4:03.84 (27.85)

Race Video

Earlier this month, on August 10, it marked 12 years that Phelps’ 4:03.84 had been on the books, and now we’ve now hit the 20-year anniversary since he first broke the record.

Phelps’ World Record Progression, Men’s 400 IM (LCM)

  • 4:11.09 – August 15, 2002 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida (2002 Summer Nationals)
  • 4:10.73 – April 7, 2003 – Indianapolis, Indiana (2003 Duel In The Pool)
  • 4:09.09 – July 27, 2003 – Barcelona, Spain (2003 World Championships)
  • 4:08.41 – July 7, 2004 – Long Beach, California (2004 U.S. Olympic Trials)
  • 4:08.26 – August 14, 2004 – Athens, Greece (2004 Olympic Games)
  • 4:06.22 – April 1, 2007 – Melbourne, Australia (2007 World Championships)
  • 4:05.25 – June 29, 2008 – Omaha, Nebraska (2008 U.S. Olympic Trials)
  • 4:03.84 – August 10, 2008 – Beijing, China (2008 Olympic Games)

According to SwimmingStats’ Daniel Takata, there are only two swimmers who have held a long course world record longer than Phelps since FINA started recognizing world records solely in LCM in 1957.

Grant Hackett has held the short course meter world record in the men’s 800 freestyle since August 3, 2001, eclipsing the 21-year mark earlier this month.

Mary T. Meagher leads the way, having broken the women’s 200 fly mark in July 1979 and held onto it for nearly 21 years, and Janet Evans follows, having held the women’s 800 free record from March 1988 until August 2008.

After first clocking 2:09.77 to break the previous record shared by Andrea Pollack and Tracy Caulkins (2:09.87), Meagher lowered the record four more times, bringing it down to 2:05.96 in August 1981. That swim remained on the books until May 2000, when Susie O’Neill recorded a time of 2:05.81 at the Australian Olympic Trials.

Evans set the women’s 800 free mark at the 1988 USA Spring Nationals in 8:17.12, and then lowered it down to 8:16.22 the following summer at the Pan Pacific Championships. It wasn’t until the 2008 Olympics that the record fell, as Rebecca Adlington won gold in Beijing in a time of 8:14.10.

Meagher’s record had stood for 20 years, 10 months and 10 days before it was finally broken, while Evans’ stood for 20 years, four months and 25 days. (Evans actually first broke the record in July 1987, but it was lowered by East German Anke Mohring less than a month later. If it wasn’t for Mohring’s swim, Evans would’ve held the 800 free record for over 21 years.)

For Phelps, he would need to hold onto this record until June 25, 2023, to match Meager, and one more day to have the longest standing record in modern swimming history.

We should also acknowledge that two women held the world record in an event longer than that in the 1930s, before FINA starting recognizing records solely in long course. Dutch swimmers Cornelia Kint (women’s 100 back) and Willy den Ouden (women’s 100 free) held world records for 25 years, 22 days and 22 years, 227 days, respectively.

Longest Standing LCM World Records

Courtesy of SwimmingStats

Event Gender Athlete Country Since Until years days Total
100 back Women Cornelia Kint NED 9/22/1939 10/14/1964 25 22 25 years, 22 days
100 free Women Willy den Ouden NED 7/9/1933 2/21/1956 22 227 22 years, 227 days
200 butterfly Women Mary T. Meagher USA 7/7/1979 5/17/2000 20 315 20 years, 315 days
800 free Women Janet Evans USA 3/22/1988 8/16/2008 20 147 20 years, 147 days
400 IM Men Michael Phelps USA 8/15/2002 8/16/2022 20 1 20 years, 1 days
1500 free Women Janet Evans USA 7/31/1987 6/17/2007 19 321 19 years, 321 days
400 free Women Ragnhild Hveger DEN 2/10/1937 8/25/1956 19 197 19 years, 197 days
100 butterfly Women Mary T. Meagher USA 4/11/1980 8/23/1999 19 134 19 years, 134 days
400 free Women Janet Evans USA 12/20/1987 5/12/2006 18 143 18 years, 143 days
200 butterfly Men Michael Phelps USA 3/30/2001 7/24/2019 18 116 18 years, 116 days

The threat level for this record has been very low for the last decade, with Lochte taking a good run in 2012, going 4:05.18 at the Olympics in London, and then after some strong showings from Kosuke Hagino (4:06.05) in 2016 and Chase Kalisz (4:05.90) in 2017, it didn’t look like anyone was coming close anytime soon as the times drifted off.

That was until France’s Leon Marchand, who happens to be coached by the same man who led Phelps throughout his entire career, Bob Bowman, exploded with a five-second drop at the 2022 World Championships, clocking 4:04.28 for the second-fastest swim in history.

After no one had come within two seconds of the record in 10 years, all of a sudden Marchand finds himself less than half a second back.

With the next major international competition on the schedule slated for July 2023 (World Championships in Fukuoka), Phelps’ record has a great chance to overtake Meagher and become the longest-standing mark on the books.

If it gets there, it will be yet another accolade to add to Phelps’ long list of accomplishments. It’s also the lone individual world record still within his grasp, and while Phelps would be the first one to tell you that records are made to be broken, it would be fitting to see it last another 10 months or so.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Forgot how stacked that ’02 final was.

Last edited 1 year ago by Drewbrewsbeer
1 year ago

I always find it so incredible when Mary T.’s WR time from 1979(!) is compared to today’s women’s 200 fly finals results. I wonder if MP’s 400 IM time will still final or even medal in the 2040’s and beyond. That would be simply amazing.

1 year ago

Wasn’t Meagher’s record held for 19 years, 10 months, not 20 years and 10 months? 1981-2000

1 year ago

If not for the supersuits era Ian Thorpe’s 3.40.08 in the 400FS would would have been two weeks older than MP’s record at 20 years and two weeks and the 8.16.22 in the 800FS set by Janet Evans would have lasted for 24 years before being broken by Katie Ledecky in 2013.

1 year ago

The only way this record has survived for so long it’s because it was done in a supersuit, Biederman’s records are criticized because of the suit, but this article just gives a “small” credit to the polyurethane aided suit of Phelps, if not for the suit, this record would never survive that long, so, if the other supersuit records are objected over textile world records, this one should go the same way.
Only problem for that, this record was done by Pheps an he is from the U.S., so don’t criticize the “goat”

Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Phelps was wearing a bodysuit, not the polyurethane supersuit that Biedeman wore when he broke the 200 free record in Rome 2009. Don’t you remember?

Reply to  Cate
1 year ago

The suits in Beijing are still considered super suits and still offered a huge advantage compared to what is allowed today

Mr Piano
Reply to  Jamesabc
1 year ago

I disagree. The leggings only had 50 percent poly, the rest being textile material worse than today’s suits. We have dual layering, taping, and textile material light years beyond the suits from 2004-2007. The 2008 leggings were only supersuits compared to the textile material of prior years. Besides, Phelps went 4:06.2 after 16 races in 2007 with a FS2, which is a terrible suit by today’s standards. He would have gone 4:03 either way.

Reply to  Cate
1 year ago

Phelps bodysuit had polyurethane panels, not a textile suit. Cielo’s 100 free former WR was done in the same suit as Biederman WRs and no one said a thing. Biederman’s records particularly the 200 free is criticized because he won over Phelps by a body length

eye guy
Reply to  Cate
1 year ago

Phelps was wearing legs in the 400 IM, not a body suit.

Reply to  eye guy
1 year ago

Legs with polyurethane panels

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Phelps only wore 50% poly legs for this race.

Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Comparing a legs only LZR to a full body jaked is like comparing a Mustang to a Ferrari. Both nice cars but not in the same league of performance.

Another fact you’re happily omitting is that beidermann never came close to his non suited times OR his finishes (i.e. the suit benefitted him more than other swimmers). Phelps and lochte continued to dominate in both IMs with and without the suit. Thorpe also wore a suit that’s now illegal, if you wanna get technical.

Is there US bias, or bias because he’s undoubtedly the greatest Olympian of all time? Maybe a little but that doesn’t mean you have to be salty

1 year ago

So are you going to acknowledge that Hackett actually has held a WR for longer than both Phelps and Mary T?

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Jamesabc
1 year ago

SCM in non-Olympic event does not have the same stature

Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
1 year ago

It’s still a record. Like this article was just literally false information before they added the info about Hackett. You can complain that they’re not comparable all you like but Hackett still has the longest standing record. And if you’re going to be comparing events, the 400IM is the least competitive Olympic event and Phelps only holds the record because of a supersuit. Hackett would still hold the current record if supersuits never existed.

1 year ago

Does it feel like swimmers were more friendly to one another back then? So many hugs to go around

1 year ago

I posted a comment about this in the Euro preview article and now you post your own article about it? Sounds like you stole my idea! (And there is literally no other possible explanation for how we could both have the same idea today.)

Reply to  Frug
1 year ago

Do you have your own swimming news website too?

Reply to  Frug
1 year ago

What are you gonna do about it?

Reply to  Frug
1 year ago

Are you kidding?

Reply to  Cate
1 year ago

Yes, I was joking. I’m quite aware people can up with ideas independently of each other.

Reply to  Frug
1 year ago


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 …

Read More »