June 17, 2020 marks 20 years since American Tom Malchow broke the world record in the 200 fly at the Charlotte UltraSwim with a time of 1:55.18, shaving .04 off of the previous record. That made him the last man to hold that World Record before a young swimmer named Michael Phelps came along and changed the way the world viewed the sport of swimming, and the way the sport of swimming viewed ‘fast.’
When Malchow broke the mark, the old record was held by Russian Denis Pankratov since 1995. Pankratov was the defending Olympic gold medalist from the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Although Malchow’s exact splits are not available, the newspaper Charlotte Observer reported at the time that he took it out in a 55.53 split for the first 100 meters, swimming well ahead of his competition.
By the 150 mark, it appeared to be a race between Malchow and the world record line. Known for his closing speed, he charged to the wall, eclipsing the mark.
The reporter at the scene noted, “the noise coming from the stands sent an electric jolt through the building. It never stopped, working its way to a deafening climax when Malchow finished. All eyes except Malchow’s looked for the time. He already knew.”
After the race, Malchow spoke to the reporter stating, “I went out fast at the beginning, and I could hear the crowd pushing me during the race. I can’t tell you how much that helped.”
A few months after breaking the world record, Malchow would go on to win the Olympic title over Pankratov, winning in a new Olympic Record time of 1:55.35.
Ironically, in that Olympic race, a 15 year-old Michael Phelps finished back in 5th place, just missing the podium by a few tenths of a second.
Less than a year later, Phelps would begin his tear on the record board by breaking Malchow’s 200 fly record with a time of 1:54.92. He cemented this with another world record at the World Championships later that year before going on to break it another 6 times.
At both those World Championships and 2002 Pan Pacs, Phelps and Malchow proved to be fierce competitors. Although Phelps broke the world record at worlds, Malchow beat him out for the gold medal a year later, handing him his only loss in the event until 2012.
Malchow’s record remains one of the last signs of the time before the Michael Phelps era. Since his 1:55.18, the record has been brought down to 1:50.73 by Hungarian Kristóf Milák.
Men’s 200 butterfly world record progression:
- 1:55.18, Tom Malchow (USA) – June 17, 2000
- 1:54.92, Michael Phelps (USA) – March 30, 2001
- 1:54.58, Michael Phelps (USA) – July 24, 2001
- 1:53.93, Michael Phelps (USA) – July 22, 2003
- 1:53.80, Michael Phelps (USA) – August 17, 2006
- 1:53.71, Michael Phelps (USA) – February 17, 2007
- 1:52.09, Michael Phelps (USA) – March 28, 2007
- 1:52.03, Michael Phelps (USA) – August 13, 2008
- 1:51.51, Michael Phelps (USA) – July 21, 2009
- 1:50.73, Kristof Milak (HUN) – July 24, 2019
Split comparison, 2000 Olympic Games Malchow vs. Phelps
|100m||55.75 (29.72)||56.44 (29.68)|
|150m||01:25.27 (29.52)||01:26.63 (30.19)|
|200m||1:55.35 (30.08)||1:56.50 (29.87)|
|Total Time||1:55.35 (Olympic Record)||1:56.50|
Unfortunately, there is no video of Malchow’s 200 fly world record. However, there is footage of the 2000 Olympic Games race and the 2001 World Championships showdown between Phelps and Malchow: