Two weeks ago, we published two articles about swimming’s most dominant world records in short course meters (women’s and men’s). The idea was to take a look at which world records are the most dominant, or disparate, compared to the second-fastest swimmer in history.
We learned that Katie Ledecky‘s 1500 freestyle on the women’s side and Caeleb Dressel‘s 100 IM on the men’s side are the most dominant ones, in terms of the percentage difference to the second-fastest all-time performer.
In the comments section, user THEO suggested looking at the difference between the world record and the #10 performer in history, rather than the second, to get a better sense of where the record stands historically.
He used the example of Ryan Lochte‘s world record in the LCM men’s 200 IM (1:54.00), which wouldn’t be ranked highly given that Michael Phelps (1:54.16) is so close behind, but in reality, those two swimmers stand well above the rest all-time in the event.
His arguments were pretty solid. So that’s exactly what Swimming Stats’ Instagram page took a look at last week: a comparison between the world records and the 10th fastest performer in history, in long course meters.
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
On the women’s side, there are some amazing world records, well ahead of their time, such as Ledecky’s 800 and 1500 free, Sarah Sjostrom‘s 50 butterfly, and Liu Zige‘s 200 butterfly.
It is Sjostrom’s world record that comes out on top, as it is 3.52 percent (almost a full second) faster than the 10th performer of all-time, China’s Zhang Yufei (25.32).
It is indeed a phenomenal world record. Sjostrom’s time of 24.43 was set in 2014 and, almost nine years later, she remains the only woman ever to crack the 25-second barrier in the event. The time would rank her in fourth place two years before at the 2012 Olympics… in the 50 freestyle!
In men’s events, it’s no surprise that Adam Peaty tops the list. Being the only man to ever crack the 57-second barrier in the 100 breaststroke (and one of the two men to go sub-58) with his 56.88, he is 2.98 percent faster than the 10th performer of all time in the event, China’s Yan Zibei (58.63). Peaty is followed in this list by himself in the 50 breaststroke, Hungary’s Kristof Milak in the 200 butterfly, and Germany’s Paul Biedermann in the men’s 200 freestyle.
Interestingly, as THEO pointed out, one might think that Lochte’s 200 IM world record would be one of the most outstanding ones. His 1:54.00 is very close to the second all-time performer, Phelps’ 1:54.16. But they are the only swimmers to ever crack the 1:55 barrier, so Lochte should be well ahead of the 10th all-time performer, right? Not exactly, as the event has improved his depth in the last few years—in fact, five of the 10 fastest swimmers of all-time have set their personal best times in 2021 and 2022. That’s why Lochte’s world record is “only” 1.18 percent faster than the 10th fastest performer in history.
And what if all the other world records were as outstanding as Sjostrom’s on the women’s side and Peaty’s on the men’s side? In other words, what if the other women’s world records were 3.52 percent faster than the 10th fastest performer of all-time? And if the other men’s world records were 2.98% faster?
Swimming Stats’ Instagram page also published these lists:
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
It is crazy to imagine that Sjostrom’s 50 butterfly world record is equivalent to a 50.74 in the 100 freestyle and a 7:58.88 in the 800. Peaty’s 100 breaststroke world record is equivalent to a 45.74 in the 100 freestyle and a 1:51.92 in the 200 IM. These figures only show how impressive the women’s 50 butterfly and the men’s 100 breaststroke world records are.
I wanna see a M 200 LCM FR in 3:35!
Not a WR any longer, but in my opinion only, the most forgotten yet bonkers amazing WR in recent times was Thorpey’s 1999 400 Free going 3:41 IN A SPEEDO!! No tech suit, no rubber floater suit, no modern compression suit. A SPEEDO basically training suit. He’s still winning pretty much every international meet with that swim. If SS decides to do a ‘greatest WR of all time’ I would put this up against the amazing 50 Fly of Sarah’s and Mary T’s 200 Fly. It happened at Pan Pacs and not the Olympics or World Champs so a lot of people forget it happened, or they assumed he was already in the famous black suit. Nope. A speedo.
Me love thorpedo
I’m most impressed with Piersol’s 1:51 in the 2back. That was bananas back in the day.
On Speedo’s Instagram (Australia) you can see video of ZSC and Peaty training together on the Gold Coast today.
The difference between the 10th all-time performer is arbitrary. Why not the difference between the 10th all-time performance?
Looking at performers is better. Take someone like Ledecky who owns all of the top-10 times in an event. Does a (let’s say for argument sake) two second difference between her best and 10th best time really paint the picture of how dominant her swim is? Not at all in my opinion.
No idea how to weight it but the age of a record is an indicator of how impressive it is also. Mary T probably still in top 25 with a swim in 1981
Didn’t really use a good measuring stick here on the women’s side for the percentage or times comparison. There’s heavy speculation that Sjostrom’s 24.43 time in 50 Fly in 2015 was wind-aided. How might the percentages have changed had you used her best non-wind-aided time of 24.69 swum a year later?
What is a wind aided swim? She’s also been 24.60 in 2017
Only a person who never saw the pool in Boros (where that record was established) can speculate about the “wind” interference. The starting end of the pool is absolutely covered from any wind by a huge railway embankment. So, the pool is deep down. Do me a favor please, never speak about the “wind” again.
Sjostrom’s 50 Fly WR race is on video and you can clearly see the strong wind effect on the red table umbrellas at the start end, and the water current rippling in one direction (the direction of the swim) from the wind.
STRONG WIND? You should buy glasses…
If I didn’t mess up on my math, her 50 fly time in 2017 worlds(24.60) which is her second best will still rank 1st compared with the 10th swim.
Wind aided? 💀
Very interesting read.
The biggest issue I think is that it doesn’t account for participation. Does anyone actually believe that Popovici’s 100 free is the least impressive world record? The 100 free is the most popular event and is competed in by probably 100x as many swimmers as the women’s 1500. And that’s only looking at professional swimming, if you look at casual swimmers almost everyone would regularly swim a 100 free while almost no one would ever swim a 1500 free.
It’s much easier to be much faster than the 10th best swimmer of all time when only 100 swimmers have ever actually competed in that event.
100% correct!!!! If you ask SJOSTROM what is her favourite WR, she would say the 100 Free by a fair distance.I laughed to see Popovici so far down, he’s the fastest of all the fastest swimmers ever.
How could you know what Sjostrom will say?
Think about it!!!!
I disagree. Popovici is incredible because he’s setting sprint records as a teenager, but that 100 free record is absolutely a weak WR. I fully buy into this methodology and do believe it’s fair to say that it is actually the single weakest WR. Theres plenty of reason to give it extra hype because he’s so young and also because the 100 free is such a marquee event in the sport in general. But There’s so many swimmers knocking on that door… even if popovici retired tomorrow, if you were to ask which records might go down in the next few years, 100 free is right near the most likely IMO (charmers!)
As to your argument about this methodology biasing… Read more »
No matter how hard I think about it, I still can’t figure out why you are so sure that she’ll say 100 free by a fair distance. It is also very probable that she’ll say the fly records because these are the events in which she built up her legacy.
Yep you are right she really thinks the 50 fly is her best WR, a non Olympic event & some countries don’t even take this event seriously.
I’m would be she likes both flys more than free seeing how the 100 jump started her career