After making his Olympic debut at the 2000 Games in Sydney, placing fifth in the 200 butterfly a few months after his 15th birthday, American phenom Michael Phelps became the youngest-ever male to set a world record in the event at the 2001 World Championship Trials in Austin, Texas.
Phelps, who was 15 years, nine months at the time, finished in a time of 1:54.92, knocking off the 1:55.18 mark established by reigning Olympic champ Tom Malchow the year prior. Previously, the youngest male to set a world record was Australian Ian Thorpe, who broke the 400 free mark at 16 years, 10 months in 1999.
This led Phelps into his Worlds debut at the 2001 Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, where he would face all four of the men who finished ahead of him in Sydney.
After both Malchow and Frenchman Franck Esposito had broken the Championship Record in the semi-finals, falling just 0.11 shy of Phelps’ world record in 1:55.03, Phelps did what he would go on to do too many times to count over the course of his illustrious career: deliver with the pressure on.
Leading Malchow by three-tenths at the 150, Phelps turned on the jets and out-split the entire field on the last 50 in 29.87 for a final time of 1:54.58, knocking 0.34 off his four-month-old world record.
Malchow took the silver in 1:55.28, and Russian Anatoly Polyakov, who finished fourth in Sydney, moved past Esposito on the last 50 to edge him for bronze — 1:55.68 to 1:55.71.
Now, FINA has given us the quarantine gift we all needed, uploading the full race video to its YouTube channel. Watch the race, courtesy of FINA, below:
This race ended up being the second of eight times Phelps would lower the long course 200 fly world record. He brought it down to 1:51.51 at the 2009 World Championships, a mark that stood for 10 years and three days before Hungarian Kristof Milak took over possession of the record at last summer’s World Championships in a time of 1:50.73.