2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES
- When: Pool swimming: Saturday, July 24 – Sunday, August 1, 2021
- Open Water swimming: Wednesday, August 4 – Thursday, August 5, 2021
- Where: Olympic Aquatics Centre / Tokyo, Japan
- Heats: 7 PM / Semifinals & Finals: 10:30 AM (Local time)
- Full aquatics schedule
- SwimSwam Event Previews
- Start Lists & Results
We recently took a look at the women’s world records most likely to go down during the swimming competition at the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, ranking the events from least to most likely to fall.
Below, find the men’s edition, with the relays in a separate section at the bottom.
WORLD RECORDS MOST LIKELY TO FALL (MEN’S INDIVIDUAL)
Ranked least to most likely to be broken in Tokyo.
14. 200 Freestyle – 1:42.00, Paul Biedermann (GER), 2009
While not quite at the same level as the women’s 200 fly, the men’s 200 free world record remains virtually untouchable after 12 years.
We’ve only seen two swims come within two seconds of Paul Biedermann‘s 1:42-flat in a textile suit: Yannick Agnel in 2012 (1:43.14) and Michael Phelps in 2007 (1:43.86). Since Agnel won the 2013 World Championships, the fastest time we’ve seen was the 1:44.38 produced by Danas Rapsys two years ago, so the guys have still got plenty of work left to reach the standard set by the super-suited Biedermann.
13. 800 Freestyle – 7:32.12, Zhang Lin (CHN), 2009
All but one of the men’s freestyle world records remain from the 2009 World Championships, and the 800 is right up there with the 200 in terms of how far out of reach today’s crop of swimmers are from it.
Zhang Lin had one of those once-in-a-lifetime swims, putting up a time that was six seconds under the existing world record in 7:32.12 Ous Mellouli won silver just over three seconds back in 7:35.27, which remains the second-fastest swim ever by a wide margin (next is Sun Yang‘s 7:38.65 from 2011).
Gregorio Paltrinieri is the only man in the field in Tokyo to have cracked 7:40, clocking 7:39.27 in 2019, and with this being a new Olympic event, we’ll see it raced more frequently and seriously in the coming years. But still, Zhang’s 7:32 will stand for a long time.
12. 400 Freestyle – 3:40.07, Paul Biedermann (GER), 2009
On the opening day of those World Championships in 2009, Biedermann closed in an other-worldly 25.77 to snatch the 400 free world record away from Ian Thorpe by .01 in 3:40.07. Sun Yang came close in 2012 (3:40.14), but no one has been sub-3:41 since.
In fact, the only two swimmers who aren’t retired that have broken 3:42 are Sun and 2016 Olympic champion Mack Horton, who both won’t be racing the 400 in Tokyo.
Another Aussie, Elijah Winnington, has cemented himself as the favorite for gold after going a world-leading 3:42.65 in June, but that’s still well off the pace required to approach Biedermann’s mark.
11. 400 Individual Medley – 4:03.84, Michael Phelps (USA), 2008
The last remaining of Phelps’ individual world records, his magical 400 IM mark of 4:03.84 from Beijing is still holding strong as we near the third Olympics since it was set.
Among those racing in Tokyo, the swimmer with the skillset best suited to take a run at the record is Japan’s Daiya Seto, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion. Seto was 4:06.09 in 2020, prior to the pandemic postponing the Games, which is still more than two seconds slower than Phelps.
Seto did take down Lochte’s nine-year-old short course meters world record in this event in 2019, but Phelps’ time remains too far out of reach.
10. 200 Backstroke – 1:51.92, Aaron Peirsol (USA), 2009
Another 2009 record that hasn’t had a serious scare, Aaron Peirsol‘s 1:51.92 200 backstroke from Rome saw arguably the greatest male backstroker in history combine with the one of fastest suits swimming has ever seen. On top of that, Peirsol had set the world record at the U.S. World Trials in the 100 back, then missed the final in Rome, so the 200 was a redemption swim of sorts.
It’s gone unblemished since, with Lochte being the only swimmer to break 1:53 in a textile suit (1:52.96 in 2011). We’ve seen several names go 1:53 in the last 10 years, including the last two Olympic champions Tyler Clary and Ryan Murphy, 2015 World Champion Mitch Larkin, and Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, who also owns the second and third-fastest swims ever from 2009.
The one favored for gold in Tokyo, however, is Russia’s Evgeny Rylov. Rylov has gone sub-1:54 at least once in five of the last six years—only failing to do so in 2020—and would be considered the man best equipped to go 1:52 in Tokyo. He lowered his European Record down to 1:53.23 earlier this year, but Peirsol’s record is still too tall of an order.
9. 200 Individual Medley – 1:54.00, Ryan Lochte (USA), 2011
If you’ve been following swimming at all over the last 20 years, you know that Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have absolutely dominated the men’s 200 IM to a ridiculous extent, with all 16 of history’s sub-1:55 swims coming from the two of them.
Phelps took hold of the record in 2003, becoming the first swimmer under 1:58, and eventually brought it all the way down to 1:54.23 in Beijing. Then Lochte hit 1:54.10 in Rome, and further lowered it to what stands as the current mark of 1:54.00 at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai.
Eight swimmers who will be in the field in Tokyo have been 1:55, but only four of them have done so since the beginning of 2019.
Michael Andrew leads the pack after blasting a 1:55.26 at U.S. Trials. We know he’ll likely be under world record pace at the 150, maybe in all three rounds in Tokyo, but he doesn’t have the freestyle leg to reach Lochte’s record. Not from what we’ve seen.
Mitch Larkin and Duncan Scott don’t have the high-end ability across all four strokes to seriously attack the record, but they are great closers and will be hunting Andrew down for gold on the last 50. Seto is solid everywhere, but better suited for the 400. Same goes for Kalisz.
If anyone broke 1:55 in Tokyo it would almost feel like a world record, given that the last one we saw came from Phelps in Rio five years ago.
8. 1500 Freestyle – 14:31.02, Sun Yang (CHN), 2012
Now things start to get interesting. One thing that was looked at prior to creating these rankings was how many swimmers have been within a half-second per 100m of the world record during the 2020-21 season. The first six events on this list had zero, but the remaining eight all had at least one.
We start with the men’s 1500, where Sun Yang has held the world record for the last decade, first lowering Grant Hackett‘s 2001 record of 14:34.56 in 2011 (14:34.14) before chopping it down three seconds one year later in London (14:31.02).
Gregorio Paltrinieri has been The Man in this event since 2015, winning the 2016 Olympic title, two World Championship golds and then recording the second-fastest swim of all-time in 2020: 14:33.10.
That swim from Paltrinieri alone puts this record very much in play, with his pace per 100m just 13 one-hundredths off of Sun’s.
However, Paltrinieri has been far from unbeatable in this event recently, falling to fellow Europeans Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk at both the 2018 Euros and 2019 Worlds. At the 2021 Euros in May, Romanchuk beat him again.
Wellbrock holds a best of 14:36.15, and Romanchuk has been as fast as 14:36.88. The race in Tokyo will feature three of the five-fastest men ever, and they may be able to push one another towards a new world record. Paltrinieri is the only one within striking distance, based on best times, for now, though.
We also can’t discount the addition of the 800 free to the program, and if having an additional 1600m of racing will take the edge off of the mile, which falls at the end of the meet.
7. 50 Freestyle – 20.91, Cesar Cielo (BRA), 2009
That second 21.04 came at the tail-end of a long pressure-packed Olympic Trials meet, where we know Dressel wasn’t fully tapered. Becoming the first swimmer sub-21 in a textile suit seems imminent for Dressel, but we all know 20.99 is still a ways off of 20.91 in a 50. Still, being within .13, he’s got a real shot.
The only other swimmer in the field that has been within two-tenths of Cielo is Great Britain’s Ben Proud, who uncorked a 21.11 in 2018. His fastest swim since the beginning of 2019, however, is only 21.42.
6. 100 Freestyle – 46.91, Cesar Cielo (BRA), 2009
With such a wide array of talent rising in the men’s 100 freestyle, Cielo’s world record is on the chopping block. If his 46.91 manages to survive Tokyo, it feels like it won’t last long after that.
Dressel was just five one-hundredths off at the 2019 World Championships in 46.96, and defending Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers was within two-tenths (47.08). And while those two are the favorites for gold in Tokyo, it’s no longer a two-man race.
Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov emerged as a major threat after going 47.31 in April, and then 16-year-old Romanian David Popovici left everyone’s jaws on the floor when he went 47.30 earlier this month. Throw in Italy’s Alessandro Miressi, who was the runner-up to Kolesnikov at the European Championships in 47.45, and you’ve got four men within .54 of the record this year, not including Chalmers (47.59 in June).
Dressel will likely have three solid attempts at the record with the lead-off leg on the relay and the individual semis/final (wouldn’t expect him to blast the heats), and Chalmers, Popovici and Kolesnikov are all capable of doing something crazy.
5. 100 Backstroke – 51.85, Ryan Murphy (USA), 2016
The 100 backstroke is a difficult one to forecast with several men capable of breaking the record but no one coming seriously close in recent years.
Ryan Murphy‘s 51.85 medley relay lead-off from Rio is still standing, with China’s Xu Jiayu narrowly missing it in 2017 (51.86). Besides Xu, the only sub-52s we’ve seen since Rio are Murphy’s 51.94 at the 2018 Pan Pacs, and Evgeny Rylov‘s 51.97 mixed medley lead-off in 2019 (which doesn’t count as an official swim).
In 2021, Kliment Kolesnikov leads the world rankings at 52.09, followed by Rylov (52.12) and Murphy (52.22). Xu, who won Olympic silver behind Murphy in 2016 and has also claimed back-to-back World Championship titles, was 52.35 in March.
All four are close enough where it’s possible, but we haven’t seen enough sub-52s recently to really expect someone to go under 51.85.
4. 200 Breaststroke – 2:06.12, Anton Chupkov (RUS), 2019
The remaining four events are almost too close to call. There’s three races where the world record can only realistically be broken by one swimmer, and it’s a good bet they’ll do so. The fourth is the men’s 200 breast, which is an entirely different story.
No event has taken a greater leap forward as a whole in recent years, with the 2:06 barrier only broken for the first time in 2017, and now it’s been cracked 14 times by six different swimmers.
Anton Chupkov is still the man to beat, owning the world record at 2:06.12 along with back-to-back World Championship titles. But Zac Stubblety-Cook of Australia (2:06.28) and Shoma Sato of Japan (2:06.40) have put up some scintillating times in 2021 (Sato has also been 2:06.74 and 2:06.78 this year), and Arno Kamminga (2:06.85) is a member of the sub-2:07 club as well.
With five of the six-fastest men of all-time lining up alongside one another in Tokyo, it feels like this may turn into more of a race than an optimal record-setting situation. It will almost certainly require a 2:06 to medal, like it did in 2019, but whether or not someone can flirt with the 2:05s under the pressure remains in question.
3. 100 Breaststroke – 56.88, Adam Peaty (GBR), 2019
No one in the sport is more dominant across 100 meters than Adam Peaty, as the Brit owns the 16-fastest swims in the history of the men’s 100 breaststroke and 18 of the top 20.
Peaty became the first swimmer sub-58 back in 2015, and he then broke 57 seconds before anyone else joined him under 58 (Arno Kamminga went 57.90 earlier this year). At the last Olympics, Peaty dropped a blazing 57.13, which remains his third-fastest swim ever. The way he has evolved since then tells us it’s likely he’ll break the world record yet again in Tokyo.
His 56.88 world record from the 2019 World Championships is more than two-tenths clear of his next-fastest swim, a 57.10 in 2018, but he’s already been 57.39 this year and is well on his way to another 56.
2. 100 Butterfly – 49.50, Caeleb Dressel (USA), 2019
Caeleb Dressel has made the 100 fly his own over the last four years, owning five of the six-fastest swims in history and being the the only man to crack 50 seconds in a textile suit.
Dressel broke through with a 49.86 in 2017 to win the world title, then lowered Michael Phelps‘ 2009 world record of 49.82 in the 2019 World Championship semi-finals at 49.50. He went on to win the final in 49.66, and added two more sub-50s at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June.
The 24-year-old’s margin of victory at the last two World Championships has been significant, but Kristof Milak‘s 50.18 in May should make this race closer than it’s been recently. That should push Dressel, and whether it’s in the semis or the final, we’d be silly not to expect him to be under 49.5.
1. 200 Butterfly – 1:50.73, Kristof Milak (HUN), 2019
The 200 fly world record wasn’t really on the radar until Milak sent shockwaves around the world in Gwangju, smashing Michael Phelps‘ 10-year-old mark of 1:51.51 in a scorching 1:50.73.
We know that Milak is the only swimmer in the field who can lower the record, and it seems like it’s coming after he went 1:51.40 in March and then 1:51.10 at the European Championships in May.
And honestly, given that 1:51.1, sub-1:50 doesn’t seem out of the question.
WORLD RECORDS MOST LIKELY TO FALL (MEN’S RELAYS)
Ranked least to most likely to be broken in Tokyo.
3. 800 Freestyle Relay – 6:58.55, United States, 2009
All three male relay world records are steep, but the 4×200 free is a mountain.
The men’s 200 free is faster than it was in the mid-2010s, but that doesn’t change the fact that it requires an average split of 1:44.6 to reach the vaunted American world record of 6:58.55, set in 2009.
Great Britain is the only country that has two swimmers in the field who have been under 1:45 flat-start, and quite frankly it would be stunning to see any team crack 7:00. The 2012 U.S. team is the only one to do so since the super-suits were banned, with the 2016 Americans (7:00.66) and 2019 Aussies (7:00.85) the next-fastest.
2. 400 Freestyle Relay – 3:08.24, United States, 2008
Headlined by Jason Lezak‘s epic 46.06 anchor leg, the 400 free relay world record from Beijing is also not really under threat.
The time of 3:08.24 requires an average of 47.06, which isn’t really within anyone’s grasp. It’s safe to say 46-second relay swims are far more common than 1:43s in the 800 free relay, which puts this one ahead of that one in terms of likelihood of being broken, but not by much.
The Russians were phenomenal at their Olympic Trials in April, with four swimmers going 48-flat or better, while the defending champion Americans only have Dressel and Zach Apple under 48 this year. But still, adding up the four Russian flat-start times from 2021 only comes out to 3:10.9.
1. 400 Medley Relay – 3:27.28, United States, 2009
The only men’s relay that seems to have any chance at a record is the medley, where, if you add up the American’s best flat-start times (Ryan Murphy, Michael Andrew, Caeleb Dressel and Zach Apple), you get 3:27.18—one tenth under the 2009 world record.
Apple’s been almost a second faster than his 100 free flat-start PB of 47.69 on a relay before, and with 49s almost automatic for Dressel at this point in fly, they could get the job done. If Andrew is a bit off at the Games, the coaches could also move to either Andrew Wilson or Nic Fink on breaststroke, who were nipping at Andrew’s heels in the 100 breast final at Trials.
We also can’t overlook Great Britain, who beat the U.S. to win the World Championship title two years ago. With Adam Peaty potentially out-splitting the American breaststroker by 1.5-2 seconds, a 53-low/50.5/46.5 combo probably gets it done for them.
It could be very close, with the record potentially in play, but not necessarily likely. If everyone is on, we could see both teams around 2:40-flat at the 300, with Duncan Scott and Apple going head-to-head for the gold, and only requiring a 47-low to hit the record. But that’s only if everyone is firing.
BONUS: Mixed 400 Medley Relay – 3:38.41, China, 2020
China lowered the mixed 400 medley relay in 2020 in a time of 3:38.41, and the U.S., Great Britain and Australia have all been sub-3:39 in recent years. It’s difficult to say what lineups will be racing in the final, given that each country will be shifting around who swims where depending on how their swimmers have performed up until that point at the Games, but this one has a good chance of falling.
The Chinese splits from that swim were elite though, so it’s certainly not a lock (52.45/57.96/55.32/52.68).