Serdinov, Phelps, Crocker: 3 Heats, 3 Consecutive World Records in the 100 Fly

The 2003 FINA World Aquatics Championships was a supremely exciting event for swimming fans. Not only did it gave us a preview of what was to come at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, but the individual performances at those championships proved swimming was still a long way from reaching its potential.

An 18-year-old Michael Phelps set 5 individual World Records, two of which came during semifinals. Neither semifinal mark would last more than 24 hours, however, as Phelps would only continue to improve in the finals, though he wasn’t the only one who got faster heat-by-heat.

The prelims of the men’s 100 meter butterfly at the 2003 FINA World Championships took place on the morning of July 25th. Americans Phelps and Ian Crocker emerged from the prelims as the top-2 seeds going into the semifinals, establishing times of 52.27 and 52.35, respectively. The World Record stood at 51.81, set by Australian Michael Klim in 1999 while the Course Record stood at 52.10 and was owned by the Olympic gold medalist from 2000, Sweden’s Lars Frolander, set in Fukuoka in 2001.

While prelims results were nothing special, even compared to the World and Course Records at the time, the semifinals were electric.

Swimming in heat 1, lane 6 of the first semifinal, Ukraine’s Andrii Serdinov blasted a 51.76 to erase Klim’s 4-year-old World Record. A name perhaps a little forgotten by history because of what happened next, Serdinov is not a name often spoken about the way that Crocker, Phelps, and Cavic are in the late-2000s butterfly discussions.

The next-closest competitor in the heat, USA’s Crocker, was fully 45/100ths behind Serdinov, touching in 52.21 to equal his lifetime best from the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships.

As Serdinov made his way towards the media heat 2 stepped onto the blocks. Not only was Serdinov the fastest-ever in the 100 fly, but he was also one of only five men to ever break the 52-second barrier, joining Aussies Klim and Geoff Huegill, (51.98, 2000) German Thomas Rupprath (51.88, 2002), and American Phelps (51.84, April 2003), who was awaiting the starter’s horn for the second semifinal.

Phelps had been 51.8 three times in the past two years, each time missing Klim’s World Record by mere hundredths.

As Serdinov celebrated Phelps charged down the pool, his back-end speed propelling him ahead of the minutes-old record Serdinov set in the first semifinal. Phelps touched in 51.47, taking 29/100ths off Serdinov’s mark and 34/100ths off Klim’s time from 1999.

Serdinov would have to try again.

The lane assignments and entry times for the final of the Men’s 100 Butterfly, which took place on July 26th, 2003, were set as follows:

  1. Evgeny Korotshkin, Russia, 52.55
  2. Igor Marchenko, Russia, 52.44
  3. Ian Crocker, USA, 52.21
  4. Michael Phelps, USA, 51.47
  5. Andrii Serdinov, Ukraine, 51.76
  6. Thomas Rupprath, Germany, 52.37
  7. Franck Esposito, France, 52.49
  8. Takashi Yamamoto, Japan, 52.55

Crocker blasted out to an early lead, and by 50 meters was fully 1.12 seconds under World Record pace, turning in 23.99. Rupprath and Serdinov trailed splitting 24.31 and 24.39, respectively. Serdinov utilized a relatively high-arm recovery and every-other breathing pattern throughout the race, a stark contrast to Phelps one lane above who appears to breathe on all but three strokes (not counting the two breakout strokes). Rupprath, meanwhile, also demonstrates a high-arm recovery but maintains a two-down-one-up breathing pattern.

With less than 25 meters remaining five men were ahead of or finger-tipping the World Record line. Ultimately, the mark Phelps had set in the semifinals would out-run all competitors except himself and Crocker, though it was Crocker who touched first and took the World Record into uncharted territory with a 50.98, shaving half-a-second from Phelps’ one-day-old record. Phelps nonetheless shaved another 37/100ths from his previous mark to finish 2nd in 51.10, leaving bronze to Serdinov who also went a lifetime best, touching in 51.59.

The 2003 World Championships were a breakthrough for Crocker, who dropped an immense 1.23 seconds from his best time in Barcelona.

Phelps and Crocker would wrestle for the title of world’s greatest in the 100 butterfly for the next five years. Though Phelps usually got the better of Crocker when gold medals were on the line, it wasn’t until 2009 that Phelps once again boasted a faster best-time than Crocker. While Phelps managed a “magic touch” to win gold in the 100 fly at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, Crocker won the 2005 World Championships in a blazing 50.40 which remained the “textile World Record” until 2016 when Singapore’s Joseph Schooling managed a 50.39 to win Olympic gold.

Finals, Men’s 100 Butterfly, 2003 World Championships:

(Crocker lane 3, Phelps lane 4, Serdinov lane 5; Phelps does not appear to be a medal-contender until around 75 meters when he makes his classic charge near the end of the race.)

Phelps’ dominion of the individual medleys was also secured during these championships. Phelps set a new World Record in the semifinals of the 200 IM and then lowered the mark again by 1.5 seconds in the finals to capture the title by nearly 4 seconds. Australian Ian Thorpe took second in the 200 IM in 2003, swimming a 1:59.66 to Phelps’ 1:56.04. Phelps also won the 400 IM in 4:09.09 and the 200 fly in 1:54.35. Interestingly, Phelps never stood on top of the podium to receive a relay medal in 2003. Though Phelps got Team USA out to an early lead in the 800 freestyle relay, the team was overtaken by Australia and settled for silver. Phelps did earn a gold from the 400 medley relay, though he swam the butterfly leg in prelims, ceding the finals to Crocker, as he would in 2004, though in 2003 the action was not voluntary.

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Just Saying

Phelps splitting 25.11 – 26.36 to set the world record during semi finals is absurd. A 1.25 second difference in a 100m fly speaks for itself.


What are the fastest second 50s in 100 fly history? 26.36 has got to be up there.

James Sutherland

Phelps was back in 26.34 when he went 50.48 at the 2009 Canada Cup in Montreal, and then was 26.35 in his 50.45 at 2015 US Nationals. I think those two and this Barcelona swim are the three fastest ever.


Phelps 2009: 23.36 – 26.46 (49.82)
Dressel 2017: 23.31 – 26.55 (49.85)
Dressel 2019: 22.83 – 26.67 (49.50)

Mr Piano

Yea but Dressel didn’t take it out in 25.11 lol


Dressel getting out in :22 and still getting home 26-mid is amazing. (I guess that’s why he’s the WR holder!)


Dressel 2019: 23.09 – 26.57 (49.66)
Dressel 2020: 24.26 – 26.66 (50.92)


Dressel’s quickest was a 26.55 when he went 49.86 in 2017. James Sutherland is right: MP’s 26.34 in 2009 Canada just before Worlds was his fastest, and hence, it is safe to assume, the fastest ever. Just for fun, here is a list of as many Phelps 26 point splits I could find: 2009 Quebec Cup 26.34 50.48 2015 Nationals 26.35 50.45 2003 Worlds 26.36 51.47 2009 Nationals 26.39 50.22 2009 Worlds 26.46 49.82 2008 Olympics 26.46 50.87 2008 Olympic trials 26.48 50.89 2003 Worlds 26.49 51.10 2008 Olympics 26.54 50.58 2008 Olympic trials 26.55 51.10 2009 Worlds 26.57 50.90 2014 Pan Pacs 26.58 51.57 2014 Nationals 26.59 51.17 2009 Worlds 26.61 50.48 2010 Nationals 26.61 50.65 2008 Santa Clara… Read more »


He was 16th out of 16 semi finalists at the turn….and set the world record


Phelps led off the 4x200free relay in the final in 1.46.60 and destroyed Grant Hackett down the final 50 (last 50 split 26.35) USA won silver.
Fun fact Aaron Peirsol was also on the team splitting 148.88.


Mental that Crocker improved over a second in these Championships.

MP lowered the 100 fly WR by 2 seconds through his career, which is crazy when you think about it. What’s crazier is that the rest of the world went right with him, through Crocker and Cavic. Those guys laid waste to the times on 100 fly.

Ol' Longhorn

In contrast, no one’s really oing with Dressel.


He also lowered the world record in the 200m butterfly by more than 3 seconds (first breaking that record at 15 years old). In the 15 years between his birth and breaking that world record for the first time, it only dropped a second and a half.


Although there was serious stagnation in the event during those 15 years before he first broke it. Malchow was pumping out 1:55s like clockwork for a decade

Mr Piano


About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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