Ranking The World Records Heading Into Rio: Men’s Edition

Like the women’s post published yesterday, this is a list of the current men’s world records, ranked by difficulty, in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Again, they are ranked by likelihood of being broken, not their relative difficulty to the competitive field as a whole.

1. 200 Free: 1:42.00

  • Paul Biedermann, Germany, 2009 World Championships
  • 2015 World Champion: James Guy, 1:45.14

The difference between the world record and the time that won the 2015 World title tells you everything you need to know. Paul Biedermann took down Michael Phelps’ world record from the 2008 Olympics by nearly a second in 2009, and it hasn’t been approached since. The only man who looked like he’d have a shot at it was Yannick Agnel after going 1:43.14 in 2012, but he has been way off the past few years. In the three World Championships since 2009 the average winning time is about 1:44.6, a far cry from 1:42.0.

2. 400 IM: 4:03.84

  • Michael Phelps, United States, 2008 Olympic Games
  • 2015 World Champion: Daiya Seto, 4:08.50

This record has only been seriously approached once since being set in 2008, and even then Ryan Lochte was over 1.3 seconds off. If Kosuke Hagino put together the perfect swim he might approach 4:05 or lower, but the fact remains no one has broken 4:07.5 since 2012.

3. 400 Free: 3:40.07

This was Biedermann’s other big swim in Rome, where he snaked Ian Thorpe’s legendary 3:40.08 by one one-hundredth with an insane final 50m. The unpredictability of Sun Yang makes this one possible, as Sun was 3:40.14 in 2012, but unlikely based on what we’ve seen from him recently.

4. 50 Free: 20.91

The consistently improving Florent Manaudou has the best shot at being the third man under 21 seconds based on his 21.19 to win the World Championships last year, but he’s still 0.28 outside the world record which is an eternity in a 50m race. Out of the top ten performances in history, Manaudou’s 21.19 is the only one not from 2009 (tied for 7th).

5. 200 Back: 1:51.92

This may be Aaron Peirsol’s best non-Olympic swim of his career, as he got revenge on a bad 100 back earlier in the meet to win gold and smash the world record in the 200. Ryan Lochte got down to a 1:52.96 in 2011, but no one has been under 1:53 since. If anyone can get close it’s Australian Mitch Larkin, who got all the way down to 1:53.17 at the World Cup in November. Also keep an eye on American Ryan Murphy, who is constantly getting better.

6. 100 Free: 46.91

  • Cesar Cielo, Brazil, 2009 World Championships
  • 2015 World Champion: Ning Zetao, 47.84

This record certainly looks much more beatable now than it has for a long time, as Cameron McEvoy’s clocking of 47.04 at the Aussie Olympic Trials in April makes the time of 46.91 appear well within reach. Of course many thought the same after James Magnussen went 47.10 at the 2012 Trials, so it’s not set in stone that McEvoy will improve on his time in Rio. His swim was the third-fastest in history, and he’ll have a shot to take out this record that has stood for seven years.

7. 200 Fly: 1:51.51

No one has come close to this record since it was set, yet it sits relatively low on the list. Why? Because of what we have seen recently. Phelps went 1:52.9 at U.S. Nationals last summer, Laszlo Cseh recently went 1:52.9 at the European Championships, and Chad Le Clos was also 1:52.9 on his way to 2012 Olympic gold and will be expected to be faster four years later. This, along with the 100 fly, shapes up to be a terrific battle in Rio and thus fast times should be expected. While this race is full of names that will make it a premier race, it’s not clear that any of them have the right combination of youth and upside to make the drop to get all the way to a 1:51.5. If not broken I think someone will get close.

8. 100 Fly: 49.82

Like Peaty’s sub-58 100 breast, Phelps’ sub-50 second 100 fly was one that reverberated around the world. The event was relatively slow up until last year, when four different men went 50 point something. With potentially the race of the Games here, expect some nasty times to be thrown down. With Phelps’ preparation reportedly being the best it’s been since ’08, nothing is out of the realm of possibilities here.

9. 100 Back: 51.94

Aaron Peirsol’s record shattering 51.94 from 2009 has been approached quite a bit recently, starting with fellow American Matt Grevers52.08 from the 2012 Olympic Trials. We also saw both Mitch Larkin and Ryan Murphy post 52.1 swims last year, and David Plummer currently sits atop the 2016 world rankings at 52.40 from earlier this month. With so many men within striking distance, this record looks like it might be on its way out the door. (Side Note: this race at U.S. Olympic Trials is going to be ridiculous).

10. 100 Breast: 57.92

A record that sent shockwaves around the world when it was broken, Adam Peaty’s mark of 57.92 looks attainable now that he has come relatively close (58.18, 58.36, 58.41) and recently and has said that he’s got a faster swim in him.

11. 200 IM: 1:54.00

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are the only two men to ever break 1:55, but they have done so a combined 15 times. It remains to be seen whether or not age gets in the way of them breaking through the 1:54 barrier, though Phelps’ 1:54.75 at Nationals last summer says otherwise. With Lochte potentially sitting out of the 200 back and Phelps seeking his fourth consecutive Olympic title in this event we could see the first 1:53s in history.

12. 1500 Free: 14:31.02

After breaking the oldest world record on the books last December in the SCM 1500 freestyle, Gregorio Paltrinieri looks primed to take down Sun Yang’s record of 14:31.02 from the 2012 Olympics. Paltrinieri’s 14:34.04 at the European Championships in May was the second fastest performance ever, and though we could see a rebuttal from Sun in Rio, it seems unlikely given his absence from the 2015 final.

13. 200 Breast: 2:07.01

  • Akihiro Yamaguchi, Japan, 2012 National Sports Fesitval of Japan
  • 2015 World Champion: Marco Koch, 2:07.76

Unlike most events, only two of the ten fastest swims in history came from 2009, including the top four coming within 2012-2014. Akihiro Yamaguchi’s mark of 2:07.01 certainly looked beatable with Daniel Gyurta leading the charge, but he was unable to snag it, coming close in 2012 and 2013. He wasn’t on his best form in 2015, so it may be up to someone else, but the simple fact that 13 different men have been 2:07-something in their careers tells us this record has to go soon, doesn’t it?


1. 400 Freestyle Relay: 3:08.24

  • United States, 2008 Olympic Games
  • 2015 World Champions: France, 3:10.74

In one of, if not the most incredible race in Olympic history, the Americans smashed the existing world record by 3.99 seconds in an amazing comeback against the French. On the strength of Jason Lezak’s mind blowing 46.06 anchor leg, they overcame the odds to reclaim the Olympic title for the first time since 1996. The suit assisted 2009 World Championships saw the Americans victorious again yet nearly a full second slower than ’08, and only the French in 2012 (3:09.93) have been under 3:10 since. The French have gone undefeated in this event since those 2012 Olympics in London, following the Olympic title up with two consecutive World Championship titles. Despite their recent dominance the race remains wide open heading into Rio. It will be fast with it being an Olympic year, but it would be a surprise if one team managed to average under 47.06 per 100 (what is required to break the record).

2. 400 Medley Relay: 3:27.28

  • United States, 2009 World Championships
  • 2015 World Champions: United States, 3:29.93

The American men took over two seconds off the existing world record at the 2009 World Championships, a mark that hasn’t been seriously approached since. The Americans got near perfect legs from all four of their swimmers in the race, and that will be required again if anyone is to come close. If Michael Phelps is back on sub-50 second 100 fly form the American men could have a chance. As a point of reference, the four times that won the World titles in each of the stroke 100’s last year in Kazan equals 3:29.32, over two full seconds off the record (albeit without relay exchanges). The fact the Americans have swimmers who have been 52.0-58.3-49.7-46.6 (all except Phelps’ fly leg are from 2012 or later) gave the 400 free relay the edge over this one in imperishability.

3. 800 Freestyle Relay: 6:58.55

  • United States, 2009 World Championships
  • 2015 World Champions: Great Britain, 7:04.33

The 800 free seems to be the most attainable of the three incredibly rich men’s relay world records. The US men broke through the seven minute barrier in 2008 and improved the record by 0.01 in 2009, but have only broken the barrier one time since (2012 Olympic final). The American men found themselves off the top of the podium at the World Championships for the first time since 2003 last summer at the hands of Great Britain, but should be much better this summer. With a fierce battle brewing within the US to qualify for the relay, expect them to be much better than the 7:04.75 they were last summer.

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The relay records will not be broken – Missed Sun Yang in 200m Free???

ice age swimmer

I also think Mac Horton could threaten the 400FR.


I think Sun, Guy and Horton could/will all be in 3:40 range and at that point the record is in real jeopardy. Not betting against Sun to win, though.


Horton not in it according to Con a wombat


Not necessarily, he has shown he can certainly swim a time that puts him in/around that “ballpark”. The issue is that of can he do it international competition. My question mark on Horton is whether he can/will switch on sufficiently in the heats to ensure he makes the final. You aren’t going to win any medals if you’re sitting in the bleachers rather than in there competing


Last year the dude was ill with a virus. In 2014 at the Commonwealths he was very young. Lets give him the benefit of the doubt, and hope that he smokes it in Rio. Anyway, we all have an interest in clean athletes beating the juice merchants.


Sun Yang’s 1:44 is very impressive, but there’s a huge gap between him and the WR. I don’t think anyone gets under 1:44, let alone 1:42.


Under 1:44 I bet, remember this is the Olympic year, where all that training means more even than worlds. I hope Yannick gets 1:43.09, improving his best, but missing OR.


I see it a little differently… 100 back and 100 breast are almost guaranteed to see WRs. In the backstroke (like 200 breast) you could have multiple people smash it. I also think there’s at least a 50-50 chance the 400 free goes down. On the other hand, I think the 200 IM, 1500 and the butterflys are tougher than you think.


The 100 breast is not guaranteed in my eyes. There is only one guy that can do it. So it all depends on Peaty going a lifetime best. Can he do it? Absolutely. But it is up to him only. I do not see anyone else going a 57.


That’s true but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t.


Nothing is guaranteed in regards to records not even KL. ok maybe not because i think she will break her 400 free WR


On the relays, 400 MR will probably get broken. 800 FR will be close — the math doesn’t really add up, but a lot of the time (like 2012) you see guys swim out of their minds on that really. The 400 FR is a tough nut to crack. Is that the longest any relay record has ever held up?


400MR is a tough one to beat – the 800 free relay as well and that famous 2008 400 free relay is a very tough one as well . Dont see any of those been beaten this year .


52.0 – 58.5 – 50.0 – 46.7 would tie the medley and that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.


Phelps could go sub 50 on his split.


that’s my point, none of those splits are pushing it. I know there are doubters but I’m sure Murphy/Grevers/Plummer can break 52… Cordes was 58.6 in the relay last summer… Adrian has split a 46-mid before… I don’t know why people would think that record is untouchable.


I think you’re giving a little too much credit to what it takes to go 46 mid. Adrian split 46 mid with a super suit and won gold with a 47.5 in 2012. Even with a relay start it would be a tall order to get down that low. But maybe if we can get a sub 52 in the 100 back (which we have several people capable of doing that) then that might give a nice buffer to help out the freestyle leg, assuming everybody else is on point that is.


Adrian split 46 mid in 2013 at worlds


I have to agree with you. People make these pronouncements as if Adrian is going to produce one “as a matter of course” just as some Australians have the same expectation of McEvoy. These are utterly exceptional performances and that’s why there are so few of them. Adrian has only 2 such textile splits and McEvoy & Agnel only once. The potential is clearly there but they’re hardly bankable certainties. They’re going to be at/near career best on that particular night.


Adrian split 46 in 2013.
McEvoy split 46 in 2015, he swam a flat 47.5 in Perth in Jan, he swam a flat 47.05 in the Australian Olympic trials, in mid season a flat 47.88 in Japan, so I think it may be beyond just nationalistic pride that predicts McEvoy may split 46 in a flying start, these are facts.


wrong , wrong facts dude




52.0 is a hard backstroke split at the end of the week, multiple days after the individual event. I’d like to know what is the fastest medley relay backstroke split from world’s post 2009? Backstroke always seem to be slower leading off the relay….

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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