The Most Impressive Records In Short Course Yards

by Daniel Takata 50

December 27th, 2022 College, Records, SwimmingStats

This article originally appeared in the 2022 Fall edition of SwimSwam Magazine. Subscribe here to the SwimSwam Magazine here.

Yes, we know, short course yards are only used in the United States. But it does not reduce their value. After all, many of the greatest swimmers in history have been competing in college events in America, including some of the best swimmers in the world as of today, like Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel.

So, it is no surprise that some of the short course yards records are impressive. Truly impressive. Some of them are arguably among the greatest swims in history, including long and short course meters performances.

And then there is the question: what are the most impressive short course yards records?

There are some ways to evaluate it.

Maybe the first one that comes to mind is comparing a given record to the fastest time of the second all-time performer. It gives an idea of how the record is an outlier.

Dressel and Ledecky on top

By this criterion, no one tops Caeleb Dressel and his 50 freestyle’s 17.63 from 2018. He is not the only swimmer to ever crack the 18-second barrier, but he is 0.64 faster than the second all-time performer, Swedish Bjorn Seeliger. Dressel’s time represents 96.50% of Seeliger’s.

In fact, in men’s events, Dressel owns the top three percentages: the other two being his 100 freestyle’s 39.90 (97.91% of Seeliger’s 40.75) and his 100 butterfly’s 42.80 (97.92% of Andrei Minakov’s 43.71). All three of these records were set at the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Championships.

In women’s events, we have a similar scenario. Katie Ledecky owns the top three performances: 1650 freestyle’s 15:03.31 from 2017 (97.78% of Erica Sullivan’s 15:23.81), 1000 freestyle’s 8:59.65 from 2015 (97.98% of Katie Hoff’s 9:10.77) and 500 freestyle’s 4:24.06 from 2017 (98.20% of Leah Smith’s 4:28.90). Curiously, all three of Ledecky’s swims were produced at different meets.

Actually, this system might be flawed in some ways. The second fastest performer of all time in one event does not necessarily represent the same level of difficulty in another one, so the comparison might be unfair.

Comparing with the average might be a good idea

Instead, we can compare a given swim with the average time of the 25 fastest performers of all time in the corresponding event. This is exactly the methodology behind the International Points System (IPS) which FINA used to compare swims across events some years ago before adopting FINA Points. The IPS uses a set of times as the base, and not only one time, and we can expect that the difficult level of this average might be equivalent across all events.

For example, the average of the fastest times of the top 25 all-time in men’s 50 freestyle is 18.59. So, Caeleb Dressel‘s 17.63 represents 94.86% of this value. Actually, this swim by Dressel is also the most impressive of all by this criterion. In men’s events, he is followed again by… himself (100 butterfly 96.72%, 100 freestyle 97.19%).

In women’s events, Katie Ledecky again is the top performer, but this time with her 1000 freestyle’s 8:59.65 (95.53%), then by her 1650 freestyle (96.61%). Third is Kate Douglass’ 50 freestyle (20.84 from 2022, 96.63%).

A more robust comparison

Again, this methodology might have some flaws. The average value is generally skewed by a small proportion of extremely large or small values. An outstanding record might change the average significantly. So, we could use the median instead of the average. The median usually provides a better representation of a “typical” value.

The median is the value separating the higher half from the lower half of a data sample. In other words, in a top 25 all-time performers ranking, the median corresponds to the time of the 13th fastest performer — because it separates the data sample in 12 values above it and 12 values below it.

For example, the median of the top 25 all-time in men’s 50 freestyle is 18.64, which is the best time of Kristian Gkolomeev, the 13th in that ranking. The median wouldn’t change its value if the all-time is 17.63 or 15.43 or 12.76. Obviously, the average would.

And, again, using the median, Caeleb Dressel tops the men’s events: he owns the three best performances, with his 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, and 100 freestyle, in that order.

In women’s events, guess who? Katie Ledecky leads with her 1000 freestyle, then her 1650 freestyle, and then her 500 freestyle.

Just out of curiosity, who is the best performer if Dressel and Ledecky are not considered? It depends on the criterion.

By comparing with the second performer of all-time, there are Bobby Finke (1650 freestyle, 14:12.08 from 2020) and Lilly King (100 breaststroke, 55.73 from 2019). By comparing with the top 25’s average, there are Luca Urlando (100 backstroke, 43.35 from 2022) and, as mentioned previously, Kate Douglass by her 50 free from 2022. By comparing with the top 25’s median, there are Ryan Murphy (200 backstroke, 1:35.73 from 2016), and Lilly King by her 100 breast from 2019.

Tables below rank all the short course yards record holders, considering an average of those three criteria.


Swimmer Event Time Yr Comparing with…



Top 25


Top 25

1 Caeleb Dressel 50 Freestyle 17.63 ‘18 1st 1st 1st
2 Caeleb Dressel 100 Butterfly 42.80 ‘18 3rd 2nd 2nd
3 Caeleb Dressel 100 Freestyle 39.90 ‘18 2nd 3rd 3rd
4 Leon Marchand 200 Ind Medley 1:37.69 ‘22 7th 8th 6th
5 Clark Smith 1000 Freestyle 8:33.93 ‘15 6th 6th 10th
6 Ian Finnerty 100 Breaststroke 49.69 ‘18 8th 7th 7th
7 Luca Urlando 100 Backstroke 43.35 ‘22 10th 4th 8th
8 Ryan Murphy 200 Backstroke 1:35.73 ‘16 14th 5th 4th
9 Will Licon 200 Breaststroke 1:47.91 ‘17 11th 9th 5th
10 Jack Conger 200 Butterfly 1:37.35 ‘17 5th 10th 11th
11 Dean Farris 200 Freestyle 1:29.15 ‘19 9th 11th 9th
12 Bobby Finke 1650 Freestyle 14:12.0 ‘20 4th 13th 13th
13 Hugo Gonzalez 400 Ind Medley 3:32.88 ‘22 12th 12th 12th
14 Kieran Smith 500 Freestyle 4:06.32 ‘20 13th 14th 14th


Swimmer Event Time Yr Comparing with…



Top 25


Top 25

1 Katie Ledecky 1000 Freestyle 8:59.65 ‘15 2nd 1st 1st
2 Katie Ledecky 1650 Freestyle 15:03.3 ‘17 1st 2nd 2nd
3 Katie Ledecky 500 Freestyle 4:24.06 ‘17 3rd 5th 3rd
4 Lilly King 100 Breaststroke 55.73 ‘19 4th 4th 4th
5 Missy Franklin 200 Freestyle 1:39.10 ‘15 6th 7th 5th
6 Kate Douglass 50 Freestyle 20.84 ‘22 12th 3rd 6th
7 Ella Eastin 400 Ind Medley 3:54.60 ‘18 5th 9th 8th
8 Katharine Berkoff 100 Backstroke 48.74 ‘22 9th 6th 7th
9 Simone Manuel 100 Freestyle 45.56 ‘17 7th 10th 9th
10 Maggie MacNeil 100 Butterfly 48.89 ‘21 11th 8th 10th
11 Alex Walsh 200 Ind Medley 1:50.08 ‘22 8th 12th 12th
12 Kate Douglass 200 Breaststroke 2:02.19 ‘22 10th 11th 11th
13 Ella Eastin 200 Butterfly 1:49.51 ‘18 13th 13th 14th
14 Regan Smith 200 Backstroke 1:47.16 ‘19 14th 14th 13th

Of course, there are many “ifs.” What if Florent Manaudou had swum NCAA competitions? Maybe Dressel’s 50 freestyle would not be so outstanding after all. We can say the same about Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky. But that’s not the point. We can only analyze the results as they were produced, and not how they could be.

And, as we can see, as of today, Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky own the most impressive short course yards records, by any criterion. Period.

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Sam M
2 months ago

Needs a new second article in light of all the new fast swims!

Last edited 2 months ago by Sam M
5 months ago

I know we’re talking SCY here, but I think Dressel’s 100 IM SCM WR will last quite awhile. Mozorov’s best is basically a full second behind, and at the recent SCM WC, nobody got close to even Mozorov’s time.

5 months ago

Caeleb got quite the beefy arm in that pic, kinda jalous tbh

5 months ago

It is my personal opinion that for dressel, the order in which his records get broken are this- 100 fly 1st to go down, 100 free 2nd to go down, 50 free last to go down. But yes his 50 record is the most impressive record in my opinion on the books.

Now for relays, I would say NC state’s 400 free relay record. Not saying that could change but they just had a great 2018 NC’s and they topped it off with a dominant win averaging 41.08-9s which might be more impressive than Texas’ 8 free relay record right now.

5 months ago

Doing a purely statistical analysis is deceiving in that it doesn’t really account for historically deep events versus “weak” events. For example, outside of Ledecky and the recent slew of amazing jrs swims this year the 500-mile for women is relatively weak as compared to historically very good events for American women like the 100 back and 100 breast. It would be interesting to discount or handicap events based upon their relative world rankings (lcm of course) over the past 10 years.

5 months ago

Just wanted to mention that Leah Smith is no longer the second fastest 500 yard swim for women. Summer McIntosh went 4:27.52 at the East Winter Juniors meet this past month.

Awsi Dooger
Reply to  dizzyd247
5 months ago

That would raise Ledecky’s percentage from 98.2% to 98.7%, using the method from the article. But I agree with posters downthread. It should be expressed as positive relationship…Ledecky 1.3% faster than McIntosh.

5 months ago

I will forever hate the fact that the only widely available footage of the legendary 17.63 is from the Big Ten Network and has irritating, screechy, nasally, clueless, overly loud commentary slathered over it. No offence to that announcer… but sheesh.

5 months ago

Next rank American Records, LCM