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, United States, 2009 World Championship Trials
- 2015 World Champion: Mitch Larkin, 52.40
Aaron Peirsol’s record shattering 51.94 from 2009 has been approached quite a bit recently, starting with fellow American Matt Grevers’ 52.08 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.