Swimming history has comprised of many athletes participating in world-class competitions starting from an early age. The United States for example has produced swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, both boasting world records at just 15 and 16 years old. Sarah Sjöström, another name that tops this elite list, was just 15 years old when she first broke the 100 m butterfly world record.
At the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome, there were obviously plenty of world records, as a result of the introduction of the best suits of the “supersuit” era, which are now outlawed. However, Sjöström’s as a promising teenager’s performance may be overlooked by the pure overall times that were being swum at this meet.
Coming off of her gold medal at the 2008 European Championships, Sjöström joined the ranks by first breaking the championship and Swedish record in the heats. Then in the semifinals, she broke the world record formerly held by Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands by over two-tenths in a time of 56.44. In the finals, she closed on Australia’s Jessicah Shipper to win gold and set a new world record with a 56.06. At just 15 years old, Sjöström managed to lower the world record by over a half-second in one meet.
For a swimmer who swims so fast at such a young age, the projections into the future are limitless. But it wasn’t immediately clear that Sjostrom would fulfill those expectations.
During the next World Championships in 2011, Sjöström was primed to defend her title and becoming world champion again at 17. However, in Shanghai things did not go as planned. Sjöström was left off the podium finishing fourth, while the American Dana Vollmer won and set a new American record.
In 2012 at the London Olympics, the same fourth-place finish left Sjöström just out of reach of her first Olympic medal in her second Games appearance (she didn’t make it out of the heats in 2008).
Vollmer not only came away with the gold but became the first woman under 56 seconds in the 100 m butterfly in a time of 55.98.
With these two performances from 2011-2012 not meeting expectations, Sjöström was ready to make a tremendous comeback.
The Swedish star began working on her freestyle to already add to her stellar butterfly. After a multiple medal performance in the European SC Championships, Sjöström bounced back in Barcelona at the 2013 World Championships.
In Barcelona, she reclaimed gold in the 100 butterfly and a silver in the 100 freestyle.
The following year at the 2014 Swedish Nationals, she destroyed the 50-meter butterfly World Record with a time of 24.43, breaking the old record by over a half-second.
Not only did Sjostrom dominate the long course races, but she proved to be a great short course swimmer as well. At the 2014 SC World Championships in Doha she won a silver in the 100 freestyle, gold in the 200 freestyle (WR), gold in the 50 butterfly, and gold in the 100 butterfly (WR).
The one thing that was still missing from her list of accomplishments was her long course world record in the 100 butterfly. At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan she was ready to claim just that. In the semi-finals, Sjöström unleashed a blistering 55.74 to touch as the fastest woman in history.
Sjöström was not done winning gold nor breaking world records at this point. Later at this meet she went on to win the gold in the 100 butterfly and setting a new time of 55.64. She would also win gold in the 50 butterfly.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics she lowered her world record once again (55.48) to capture her first Olympic gold at the age of 22. She managed to pick up a bronze and silver in the 100/200 freestyle respectively.
The 2017 World Championships led to more medals and more world records. She broke the 50 and 100-meter freestyle world records in Budapest while also earning three more gold medals.
In 2019 (Gwangju), even though she was bested in the 100 fly by Canadian Maggie MacNeil she still managed to get on the podium in all five of her individual events.
Sarah Sjöström is dominant to say the least. At still only 26 years of age, she has spent the last decade putting up impressive swims from either short course to long course, freestyle to butterfly. She has racked up the wins and earnings in the FINA World Cup circuits. Even in the newly minted International Swimming League, she was named the inaugural league MVP swimming for the championship winning team Energy Standard.
When swimming resumes and international meets take place, do not be surprised if Sjöström adds more accomplishments in the next decade.