“Suit Gap Records” – the Asterisk on the American Records Book


  • Tuesday, December 11th – Sunday, December 16th
  • Hangzhou, China
  • Tennis Centre, Hangzhou Olympic & International Expo Center
  • SCM (25m)
  • Prelims: 9:30 am local, 8:30 pm ET / Finals: 7:00 pm* local, 6:00* am ET
  • *The final night of finals will be one hour earlier, starting at 6:00 pm local and 5:00 am ET

With the United States sending its best roster in a generation to the 2018 Short Course World Championships, including big names like Caeleb Dressel, Kathleen Baker, and Mallory Comerford, ghosts of winters past are being stirred from the closets of the American Record books.

Already in two events on the first day of competition in Hangzhou, American Records have fallen in two events that aren’t the fastest time by an American. That is because of a tragic quirk in USA Swimming’s rules from 2009 – when I was just starting to cover swimming at The Swimmers Circle, but where much of our audience weren’t yet pulled into the fan side of the sport.

The infamous and now-banned neck-to-ankle polyurethane suits that led to over 200 World Records being broken in 2008 and 2009 were finally voted out of the sport in 2009. FINA, the world governing body, elected to eliminate the suits from competition beginning on January 1, 2010 – when most of the world considers the start of the ‘new season.’

USA Swimming, however, instead outlawed the suits on October 1, 2009 – coinciding with the start of its new season, driven mostly by the age group and scholastic calendars.

The problem with this, which may not have been the primary concern of the rule-makers, is that American swimmers were not limited to racing in USA Swimming meets, which meant that when they raced internationally, they would either be racing at a significant suit disadvantage, or they would be racing in suits no longer allowed by their home federation. For the most part, they chose to race in the suits, which resulted in some big swims that, in some cases, were marked as World Records, but not American Records, because USA Swimming wouldn’t acknowledge them as official swims.

The primary meet impacted was the 2009 Duel in the Pool, which for those who don’t remember was a prior series of meets that pitted USA Swimming in a dual meet against an international team (Australia from 2003-2007; a European all-star squad from 2009-2015). The FINA World Cup Series, which was held in October and November of that year, also would have been exposed to this pitfall. Generally, it would be short course meters swims impacted, and that’s part of why these records still stand a decade later when so many other super-suited records have fallen: Americans don’t swim short course meters that often, and when they do, they don’t often take it too seriously.

This year’s team, however, seems honed-in so far, and will make this an issue again. Below, see all of the events we could find that are impacted by this phenomenon, along with what the ‘official’ American Record is.

Among the gaps that once stood but no longer do: Nick Thoman led off the American men’s 400 medley relay with a World Record split off 48.94 on backstroke. Matt Grevers has since been faster, but for a time, that swim was the World Record, but not the American Record. The same was true of the overall men’s medley relay, and the women’s medley relay, though neither of those records still stand as the World Record. There are  a few other events (like Rebecca Soni‘s 200 breaststroke) that fall into the same gap.

One of these gap records came off the books on Friday. The new American World Record in the men’s 400 free relay of 3:03.03 is faster than the 2009 Duel in the Pool squad – which was the World Record, but not the American Record, until Tuesday.

See Also:

A sidebar: With a new kind of tech suit ban on the horizon beginning in September of 2020, specifically for 12 & unders, this could crop up again on a smaller scale, if 12 & unders race internationally in a meet like the North American Challenge Cup, or similar, and were to swim faster than a National Age Group Record, but it should be on a much smaller scale, if at all.

Men’s SCM “Gap” Records

Event Best American Time Official American Record Notes
50 free Nathan Adrian – 20.71 Anthony Ervin – 20.85
100 free Nathan Adrian – 45.08 (relay) Caeleb Dressel – 45.66 (Tuesday) Adrian also went 45.42 at this meet
800 free Chad LaTourette – 7:33.94 Michael McBroom – 7:33.99 Finished 2nd at Duel in the Pool
50 Back Peter Marshall – 22.61 Randall Bal – 22.87 At the Singapore stop of the FINA World Cup Series
400 medley relay 3:20.71 (Thoman/Gangloff/Phelps/Adrian) 3:20.91 (Grevers/Cordes/Shields/Adrian)

Women’s SCM “Gap” Records

Event Best American Time Official American Record Notes
200 free Allison Schmitt – 1:51.67 Mallory Comerford – 1:51.81
400 free Allison Schmitt – 3:55.89 Katie Hoff – 3:57.07
100 breast Rebecca Soni – 1:02.70 Katie Meili – 1:02.92
200 breast Rebecca Soni – 2:14.57 Rebecca Soni – 2:16.39
200 IM Julia Smit – 2:04.60 Caitlin Leverenz – 2:04.91
400 IM Julia Smit – 4:21.04 Caitlin Leverenz – 4:24.62 Dagny Knutson (4:24.31) was also faster than the current record

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5 years ago

Did a record “gap” occur when rules were changed to allow for the current backstroke flip turn (as opposed to the the old rule requiring a swimmer to touch with their hand) or the allowance of a dolphin kick in the breastroke underwater sequence?

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Both of those rules changes made the times faster rather than slower unlike the slowing impact of eliminating supersuits so a gap impact wouldn’t exist for very long except in rare situations.

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
5 years ago

I like that the official American record in the women’s 400M free is faster in LCM than in SCM.

Reply to  PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
5 years ago

Definitely curious what Katie L could do in SCM.

5 years ago

Are the participants in that 400 Medley relay off? That was the old 400 Free relay record team.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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