Setting seven world records in one calendar year is a rare feat, let alone doing so in the same meet. In fact, Spitz and Phelps set other world records in 1972 and 2008, respectively. Which brings the question: are they the swimmers who set the most world records in a calendar year? Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published a list that answers this question.
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The list takes into account only world records set in long course meters from 1957 on. But why 1957?
Prior to 1957, long course and short course records were not kept separately. For each distance and stroke, a record could be set in either a 25-meter pool or a 50-meter pool. World records could even be set in a 25-yard pool: a swim of 110 yards (about 100.6 meters), for example, could be recognized as a record in a 100-meter event.
In 1957, FINA started to accept records sets only in 50-meter pools – in 1991, FINA started to recognize records in 25-meter pools as well, and since then we have long course records and short course records.
The list published by Swimming Stats considers only long course world records. And, not surprisingly, the swimmer who set the most world records in a calendar year is Mark Spitz, in 1972. In that year, he registered a record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, a feat surpassed by Michael Phelps in 2008. All of Spitz’ medals in 1972 were captured in world-record time (men’s 100 and 200 freestyle, 100 and 200 butterfly, 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle, and 4×100 medley.) During the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier that year, he had set five world records in the 100 freestyle, 100 butterfly (twice) and 200 butterfly (twice).
Also, Spitz appears one more time on the list, as he set eight world records in 1967, which happened to be the first world records of his career.
Dutch woman Inge de Bruijn set 12 world records in her career, 11 of them in 2000. All of them were set in individual events, the most in history by any swimmer. 2000 was the best year of her career, as she won three gold medals and set three world records during the Sydney Olympics. In the 50 freestyle, she set the world record no less than four times over the year.
Tied with Chet Jastremski and Kornelia Ender is Michael Phelps with nine world records in 2008: seven from his historic performance at the 2008 Olympics (men’s 200 freestyle, 200 butterfly, 200 and 400 IM, 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle, and 4×100 medley), and two more at the U.S. Olympic Trials (200 and 400 IM). Phelps also set eight world records in 2003, all in individual events, including four in the 200 IM.
Speaking of Jastremski, he achieved an amazing feat in 1961: of his nine world records set that year, six of them were set in the 100 breaststroke. He is the swimmer with the most world records set in the same event in a calendar year since 1957.