WATCH: LZR Bodysuited Caeleb Dressel Challenges 20-Second Barrier in 50 SCM FR

Speedo is a SwimSwam partner.

Buoyant full-body racing suits have been outlawed in swimming since 2010. But that’s never stopped fans from wondering just how fast today’s athletes could be in the tech suits that led to an explosion of world records in the late 2000s.

Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis

To celebrate the 20th birthday of its Fastskin material, swimwear brand Speedo set up a spectacle to answer just that question. World record-holder Caeleb Dressel suited up in a 2008-era Speedo Fastskin LZR racer bodysuit to take on a 50 short course meter freestyle.

Dressel swam yesterday at the La Mirada Regional Aquatics Center in La Mirada, California. Speedo filmed the race and released results on YouTube today.

The event was billed as the sub-20 Challenge, with Dressel aiming to swim under 20 seconds for the first time in history. You can watch the event here:

Though Dressel didn’t hit 19-second territory, he did put up one of the ten fastest swims in history at 20.40.

Dressel took two attempts at the swim, going 20.41 and then 20.40.

The swim should be interesting to fans for multiple reasons. Obviously, there are plenty of factors at play. Dressel is about three weeks past his main taper meet, the ISL final where he set the world record at 20.16. There was some international travel in the middle there as Dressel returned from Budapest, and maintaining a taper over that length of time is no easy task.

But the swim should also provoke some fun conversation from fans about just how impactful the bodysuits would be in modern swimming. Would we have seen a bigger impact in a longer event, or with a different swimmer? (Perhaps not one already going video-game times without a bodysuit).

Dressel himself noted that the buoyant suit shot him to the surface faster than expected. That’s an adjustment that perhaps could yield some more time with more experience racing in the suit. It also would probably help more for a swimmer who is somewhat weaker underwater – that’s Dressel’s strength, so the suit plays against him a little bit in that regard, or at the very least doesn’t offer as much of an advantage, relatively speaking.

Historical Context

Here’s a list of the top swims and swimmers of all-time in the event. Dressel’s swim from today won’t officially join these lists – the bodysuit he was wearing isn’t legal for competition anymore – but this gives some context to just how fast Dressel swam compared to history.

These lists are according to USA Swimming’s database, though we’ve done our best to verify that no swims have been omitted:

All-Time Top Performances – Men’s 50 SCM Free

  1. Caeleb Dressel (2020) – 20.16
  2. Caeleb Dressel (2019) – 20.24
  3. Florent Manaudou (2014) – 20.26
  4. Caeleb Dressel (2020) – 20.28
  5. Roland Schoeman (2010) – 20.30
  6. Vladimir Morozov (2017) – 20.31
  7. Vladimir Morozov (2018) – 20.33
  8. Vladimir Morozov (2018) – 20.39
  9. Vladimir Morozov (2019) – 20.40
  10. Caeleb Dressel (2018) – 20.43

All-Time Top Performers – Men’s 50 SCM Free

  1. Caeleb Dressel (2020) – 20.16
  2. Florent Manaudou (2014) – 20.26
  3. Roland Schoeman (2010) – 20.30
  4. Vladimir Morozov (2017) – 20.31
  5. Amaury Leveaux (2009) – 20.48
  6. Cesar Cielo (2010) – 20.51
  7. Fred Bousquet (2010) – 20.53
  8. Evgeny Sedov (2014) – 20.59
  9. Alain Bernard (2009) – 20.64
  10. Ben Proud (2017) – 20.66

To compare directly to other swims in LZR-style bodysuits, here’s a look at what the top performers in history looked like at the end of the bodysuit era in late 2010. This list is a bit fuzzier to compile, going back more than a decade. If there’s a time missing, let us know in the comments and we’ll work to verify it:

Top Performers – Men’s 50 SCM Free – As of January 1, 2010

  1. Roland Schoeman (2009) – 20.30
  2. Amaury Leveaux (2009) – 20.48
  3. Fred Bousquet (2009) – 20.53
  4. Alain Bernard (2009) – 20.64
  5. Duje Draganja (2009) / Stefan Nystrant (2009) – 20.70
  6. Nathan Adrian (2009) – 20.71
  7. Steffen Deibler (2009) – 20.73
  8. Sergey Fesikov (2009) – 20.84
  9. Evgeny Lagunov (2009) / Roland Schoeman (2009) / Matthew Abood (2009) – 20.89


Speedo‘s full press release is below:

The legendary 20-second barrier for a 50m short course swim remains standing after an exhibition event by Speedo explored whether it could be broken.

On Fastskin’s 20th birthday, Speedo gave the fastest man on the planet, Caeleb Dressel, the infamous Speedo Fastskin 2008 LZR Racer swimsuit, made famous at the Beijing Olympics before being banned. 

Dressel remains the fastest swimmer in the world, setting a new world record time of 20.16s last month at the International Swimming League in Budapest wearing Speedo’s latest suit technology.

Speaking after the event when asked how it was to race in the suit, Caeleb said:

“I had to change a couple of things like my body position. It felt really, really good – but I’ll say this; nothing is guaranteed and the suit doesn’t make the swimmer, the swimmer makes the suit.

“I got up and I raced tough, I wouldn’t change anything about it.” When asked if he’d take the challenge on again he replied;

“Oh I would 100% do it again. It’s not about going as fast as you can all the time, it’s about learning from the sport and I think that’s the most important thing I can take away from today.”

Speaking about the event, Rob Hicking, brand director at Speedo, said: “When we first came up with the idea for this challenge we knew it was going to be really difficult to beat 20 seconds as there’s a reason nobody has ever broken that barrier – but we wanted to see how fast humans could go in water if unrestricted. It’s in our brand DNA to take risks and see how far we can push the limits of the sport.

“We had an amazing partner for the event in Caeleb – credit to him for putting himself out there, having some fun and exploring what was possible. Whilst the Sub 20 barrier remains, he is still the fastest man the world has ever seen and we can’t wait to see what Caeleb can achieve in 2021 and beyond.”

Speedo has produced a short documentary around the Sub 20 event, which can be viewed or embedded from here:

For Dressel and Speedo, attentions now focus to Tokyo for the delayed 2020 Olympic Games, where the Florida-born star will be aiming to further add to his legacy.

When he steps on the blocks that day, it will be in the latest FINA-approved Speedo Fastskin suit. Since the launch of their Pure Valor and Pure Intent suits in 2019, 65% of world records have been broken by athletes in the suits, including three individual records by Dressel at the recent ISL meeting. 

About Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer 

Launched in February 2008, the LZR Racer suit was a high-tech swimsuit made from 50% polyurethane which caused controversy in 2008 as a series of world records were set by swimmers wearing it.

For three years, Speedo worked with everybody from universities and sporting institutes to NASA scientists to create the LZR Racer, whilst experimenting with over 60 materials. 

The result was the LZR Racer which reduced drag, maximised muscle support and helped keep swimmers free in their range of motion. 

The suit reduced drag (water resistance) by 38% compared with the ordinary LYCRA suits which were available on the market, resulting in an increase in speedo of approximately 4%. 

Hugging the body up to 70 times tighter than other suits the suit was a huge success, with 94% of all swimming golds won at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games won by athletes wearing the suit.

“I feel like a rocket”, said swimming superstar Michael Phelps, who helped the test the suits and subsequently won an unprecedented eight golds at the Games. 

So effective was the LZR Racer that Speedo offered free suits to any athlete at the 2008 Games that wanted one. They ended up giving away more than 3,000 – included swimmers sponsored by rival brands who all made the decision to wear them. 

Suits that were not completely made from textiles were subsequently outlawed in 2010. 

About Speedo®

The world’s leading swimwear brand, Speedo® is passionate about life in and around the water, creating revolutionary new technologies, designs and innovations, and supports swimming from grass-roots through to the elite level. In the 1920s Speedo® made history with the Racerback: the world’s first non-wool suit. In 2008 Speedo® redefined swimwear again with Fastskin® LZR RACER® – the fastest and most technologically advanced swimsuit ever created. 2011 saw Speedo unveil another world first with the Fastskin Racing System – a cap, goggle and suit designed to work together as one. Speedo® is owned by Speedo Holdings B.V and distributed in over 170 countries around the world. To find out more visit:

Throughout its 90 year history Speedo has been at the forefront of swimwear innovations that have enabled top athletes to achieve more Olympic gold medals and shatter more World records than any other brand. 

Speedo’s quest – like our swimmers – is to go faster and to achieve greater success. It has been our legacy for 90 years.

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Christopher Harrigan
1 year ago

…were subsequently outlawed bc competitors came into the market with tech suits that lasted for years instead of one championship meet. Even if speedo won back all of the market share, their sales volume would be cut in half if not more with suits that lasted that long.

1 year ago

Did anyone notice his left hand in the slow-mo videos? It seems his hand was slipping ever so slightly (at 3:50 for example) and I’m wondering if anyone knows if this is normal for him.

1 year ago

He was not keeping his palms hooked, instead he let them flexed to the front

Captain Ahab
1 year ago

Caeleb Dressel needs to break Cesar Cielo 50 meter freestyle long course time of 20.91 because we are all tired of looking at it.

1 year ago

It’s not a fast pool. Know it well. Should have done it indoors.

1 year ago

I’m more disappointed by the camera work and the amateurish set up than anything else.
Yes, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I’m sure there were tons of restrictions to work around, but this lousy video is all we got?
There were two good swims in there that we could have dissected, see in slow motion, have great underwater feed of, analyze from all angles. Instead? We get Beisel auditioning for next year’s ‘Who’s as bad as Rowdy?’ ISL commentator & swim really slow for 12m, and Dressel get on the blocks in a wrinkled suit.
This was a huge let-down. They should have taken two days to edit, found their youtube password in the… Read more »

1 year ago

I wonder if the large suit limited his explosiveness off the start.

Reply to  CraigH
1 year ago

Maybe a little, mostly threw off his underwaters and entire technique cuz of its buoyancy.

1 year ago

Well seen how Speedo pays his wages, guess Caeleb has to do a few extras for the brand, its pure exploitation of course, but that’s the world we live in.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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