The Oldest (And Most Underrated) World Record: Grant Hackett’s SCM 800 Free

When we think of the most dominant world records in swimming, a few specific performances and names come to mind.

Katie Ledecky is an obvious one, having run rampant on the women’s distance freestyle records dating back to 2013. There’s also the exploits of Paul Biedermann (men’s 200, 400 free), Zhang Lin (men’s 800 free) and Liu Zige (women’s 200 fly) in the super-suit era of 2009, and of course, Adam Peaty‘s recent superiority in the men’s sprint breaststrokes.

All of the athletes mentioned above established their world records in the long course pool. The short course records (25m) are a little less well known, as the Short Course World Championships only occur once every two years (and swimmers typically don’t take it as seriously as LC). Due to this, a few all-time marks fly under the radar, including the oldest world record still on the books.

In July of 2008, less than three weeks before the start of the Beijing Olympic Games, Australian legend Grant Hackett swam to a time of 7:23.42 in the SCM 800 freestyle at the Victoria Open in Melbourne.

That swim is one of just three individual records set prior to 2009 that still stand today — joined by Michael Phelps‘ 4:03.84 400 IM at the Olympics in August and Amaury Leveaux‘s 44.94 100 free at SC Euros in December  — and holds up almost 12 years later as one of the most dominant currently on the books.

It is worth noting that the men’s 800 free, along with the women’s 1500, are possibly the two least contested events on the swimming program. They have never been done at the Olympics (though that will change when the Tokyo Games eventually take place), and also aren’t even on the Short Course Worlds schedule.

So, had recent distance dynamos such as Zhang, Sun Yang or Gregorio Paltrinieri taken a proper stab at this event, perhaps it wouldn’t be so dominant.

When Hackett broke the record in ’08, he did it by a relatively large margin, 1.86 seconds. Nothing unheard of, but a sizable amount nonetheless. The seven-time Olympic medalist had previously been 7:25.28 back in 2001, and also went 7:27.81 in August of 2007.

The real jaw-dropper is the fact that the next fastest man in history, Yannick Agnel, is almost six seconds behind. At the 2012 French Nationals, Agnel went 7:29.17, joining Hackett in the sub-7:30 club. This was the same meet where Agnel shocked everyone by breaking Biedermann’s SCM 400 free record in 3:32.25. So despite being on incredible form (while also acknowledging Agnel was always better in the 200 and 400), the Frenchman was still a distant 5.75 seconds shy of Hackett.

ALL-TIME PERFORMERS, MEN’S SCM 800 FREE

Rank Swimmer Time Year
1 Grant Hackett  (AUS) 7:23.42 2008
2 Yannick Agnel (FRA) 7:29.17 2012
3 Henrik Christiansen 7:29.39 2019
4 Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) 7:30.31 2018
5  Federico Colbertaldo (ITA) 7:31.18 2009
6 Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) 7:31.92 2018
7 Jan Micka (CZE) 7:33.23 2018
8 Florian Vogel (GER) 7:33.44 2015
9 Wojciech Wojdak (POL) 7:33.60 2015
10 Michael McBroom (USA) 7:33.99 2013

HACKETT’S SPLITS

25.39 52.92 (27.53)
1:20.76 (27.84) 1:48.55 (27.79)
2:16.47 (27.92) 2:44.62 (28.15)
3:12.83 (28.21) 3:41.02 (28.19)
4:08.99 (27.97) 4:37.22 (28.23)
5:05.43 (28.21) 5:33.75 (28.32)
6:01.92 (28.17) 6:30.09 (28.17)
6:57.29 (27.20) 7:23.42 (26.13)

The now 39-year-old Queensland native averages out to be 0.71875 seconds faster than Agnel per 100, ranking third among all male world records behind Peaty’s 100 breast (1.41) and 50 breast (0.76).If we look at the dominance of each world record by calculating each record-holder’s gap over the #2 swimmer of all-time per 100 meters, Hackett’s swim comes out near the top (excluding all yards swims).

World Record Gaps Over Next-Fastest Swimmer Per-100m (Male Only)

Rank Swimmer Event World Record #2 All-Time Performer Gap (Per-100m)
1 Adam Peaty (GBR) 100 Breaststroke LCM 56.88 58.29 1.41
2 Adam Peaty (GBR) 50 Breaststroke LCM 25.95 26.33 0.76
3 Grant Hackett (AUS) 800 Freestyle SCM 7:23.42 7:29.17 0.71875
4 Florent Manaudou (FRA) 50 Backstroke SCM 22.22 22.55 0.66
5 Ryan Lochte (USA) 200 IM SCM 1:49.63 1:50.47 0.42

Now if we bring the women’s records into the mix, they take over a lot of the top spots. Ledecky and Hungarian Katinka Hosszu both rank inside the top-10 twice, and Sarah Sjostrom‘s 50 fly shoots up to #2 overall. But, Hackett’s swim still keeps a spot in the top-10.

World Record Gaps Over Next-Fastest Swimmer Per-100 (Overall)

Rank Swimmer Event World Record #2 All-Time Performer Gap (Per-100m)
1 Adam Peaty (GBR) 100 Breaststroke LCM 56.88 58.29 1.41
2 Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) 50 Butterfly LCM 24.43 25.07 1.28
3 Katie Ledecky (USA) 1500 Freestyle LCM 15:20.48 15:38.88 1.22667
4 Katie Ledecky (USA) 800 Freestyle LCM 8:04.79 8:14.10 1.16375
5 Katinka Hosszu (HUN) 200 IM SCM 2:01.86 2:04.18 1.16
6 Liu Zige (CHN) 200 Butterfly LCM 2:01.81 2:03.41 0.80
7 Adam Peaty (GBR) 50 Breaststroke LCM 25.95 26.33 0.76
8 Grant Hackett (AUS) 800 Freestyle SCM 7:23.42 7:29.17 0.71875
9 Florent Manaudou (FRA) 50 Backstroke SCM 22.22 22.55 0.66
10 Katinka Hosszu (HUN) 100 IM SCM 56.51 57.10 0.59

Unless FINA goes ahead and adds the men’s 800 and women’s 1500 to the lineup at Short Course Worlds, or someone like Paltrinieri, Florian Wellbrock or Mykhailo Romanchuk make it a priority to really go after Hackett’s time at a different SC meet, this record could stand for another 12 years and beyond.

Paltrinieri is the fourth-fastest performer ever, flipping in 7:30.31 on the opening 800 of his 1500 at the 2018 Short Course Worlds. In 2015, the Italian broke Hackett’s SC 1500 free record of 14:10.10 in 14:08.06, which, at the time, was the oldest record in the books (standing for over 17 years).

Norwegian Henrik Christiansen became the third man under 7:30 when he went 7:29.39 at the Dutch Championships (going for the 800 split during a 1500) in December of 2019. He also went 7:30.79 in the individual race, giving the #5 and #7 fastest swims of all-time.

Hackett also previously held the long course 800 record for four years (broken by Zhang in 2009), the long course 1500 record for 10 years (broken by Sun in 2011), and the long course 200 free record for five months in 1999.

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Skoorbnagol
7 months ago

I’m not saying Grant Hackett isn’t talented as he is, but not on a natural level of Ervin, Phelps/Lochte, his 6’5 frame helped but his dominance and rewards were a product of work hard and willing to do what others weren’t.
So many ways to train these days, sometimes you got to look back and say 14.34 in 2001(1500 LCM) and 7.25 800free SCM IN 2001, wow. Ahead of his times. Volume and honest hard work can’t be forgotten.
Him and Kieran Perkins moved and dominated distance swimming so much the worlds only just catching up.

M d e
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
7 months ago

Grant hackett was absolutely on that level, are you serious?

Swim
Reply to  M d e
7 months ago

I believe he won a gold with one lung

DLswim
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
6 months ago

To swim at that level, incredible talent is required.

Ghost
Reply to  Skoorbnagol
5 months ago

Some people might say his big body is a negative factor to pull thru an 800

JP input is too short
7 months ago

Amaury Leveaux’s 2008 Euros is one of my favorite dominant meets… won the 50, 100 (with that 44.9 WR), 50 fly, and 200 free relay with a sub-20 split. I know it was super suited, but… still.

IM FAN
Reply to  JP input is too short
7 months ago

The French 4x50m free relay at that meet was absolutely ridiculous. It was the same quartet that had the epic 4x100m freestyle relay showdown with the USA at the 2008 Olympics… Alain Bernard 20.64 Fabien Gilot 20.33 Amaury Leveaux 19.93 Frederick Bousquet 19.97 That’s right, not one, but two swimmers broke 20 on the same relay! I believe outside of this occasion no one else has ever broken 20 on a 50 meter free split. The closest I can find is a 20.04 from Florent Manadou and a 20.08 from Cesar Cielo both swum in the final of the 2014 world short course champs 4×50 medley relay. There time was 1:20.77, and though FINA didn’t recognize the 4×50 free relay… Read more »

JCO
Reply to  IM FAN
7 months ago

Here’s a link to the race video. Pretty crazy how much they win this race by:

https://youtu.be/1tPqAQHfYJg

Joe
7 months ago

Perkins, Thorpe, Hackett really brought mid/long-distance free to another level on the men’s side.

The times they dropped 20+ years ago could still win golds in Olympics/Worlds today.

Johnson
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

It’s the Aussie coaching

Fdsjsn
Reply to  Joe
7 months ago

They were all technically ahead of their time. Lovely to watch, even in 2020.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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