Which Super-Suited Records Can Be Broken? Tier 3

We are nearing the ten-year anniversary of the most ridiculous technology-aided amazing display of world record breaking swimming the world has ever seen. Over the course of a week, a total of 43 world records (in 31 unique events) were broken in Rome. How significant is that? There have only been 48 world records set at the Olympics or World Championships in the 10 years since. As we near the end of the first post super-suit decade there are still 15 super suit records on the books, including a few set in Beijing and also a handful that were squeezed in during the fall of 2009 as the super-suit ban approached. Some of these records have had close calls over the years, while others still have an untouchable feel to them a decade or more later.

We are entering a 24-month period that will see three high-level international swim meets; 2019 Worlds in Gwangju, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2021 Worlds in Fukuoka. These three meets each give us a very high potential for world-record breaking swims, hopefully putting to bed some of these super- suited records that many of us would love to turn the page on.

I have done a deep dive into the data of the past ten years of swimming in the 15 events that still have super-suited records hovering over them. For individual events, I mined the fastest 200 times in each event since the suits were banned. For the relay records I only used the top 50 times for reasons explained later. While using the top 200 times in the last decide does not afford us a chronological view of the progression of times (as a group or individually) towards the respective records, it does allow us to see how the very best swimmers/swims in the past decade have fared in relation to the record, allowing us to gauge both the significance of the current record as well as how the swimming world as a whole may be closing in on it.

Using these top times from the past decade of non-super-suited swims in addition to the existing world record, we can see a very clear picture of just how significant those records are in relation to the historical data since. Statistics were calculated, graphs were made……. and with a little of my own opinions and bias sprinkled in I have ranked the 15 world records in order of how likely they are to being (or not being) broken in the next three years. As a statistical note, standard deviations are typically used to measure how far a value is from the mean value (ex: A SAT test score was 1.2 standard deviations above the mean) but here I use them to compare how far a particular swimmer is from the world record, which is obviously the minimum value. This method is a tad unorthodox, but this allows us to
compare the relative likelihood of records being broken across different distances, genders and disciplines.

As it is, I have broken the existing records into four tiers. Within each tier I feel legitimate arguments can be made for the swapping of event rankings, but I have gone ahead and ranked them 1-15 for the purpose of linearity and (of course) a spirited comments section. I wrote all of these with great care and spent hours doing research. If I have missed your favorite up and coming swimmer with huge potential, or missed a swim in the transfer of data from FINA.org, you have my sincere apologies. I also acknowledge that crazy stuff happens and we may see an out of this world swim by any swimmer at any time, but those are really tough to anticipate and to account for in this format. I am not always trying to estimate if a particular swimmer is capable of breaking the record, but rather just the likelihood of the record being broken at all. By someone. Soon. One final note, this is not meant as a prediction of who will win any particular event in Gwangju or Tokyo, simply a general records discussion. So, without
further ado and from least likely to be broken to most likely, let’s dive in and go for a swim.

Tier 4 (Read Here)

Tier 3

Tier 3: Records that could fall soon, but I just wouldn’t advise running to Vegas with your mortgage check.

In my research there were reasonably clear delineations between tiers, either because of the time gaps or the lack of semi-current swimmers near the record.  This next tier had swimmers within 1-2 standard deviations of the record or had swimmers still active that could reasonably be expected to improve. For example, I don’t think Sun Yang has enough growth potential left to get either of the records listed above, but a swimmer like Kristof Milak is a similar number of standard deviations from the world record in the 200 Fly but has much more potential room for improvement given his age and current trajectory.

Number 12: Women’s 200 Free- Pelligrini; 1:52.98

The data:  The 200 fastest swims since 2009 have a mean of 115.52 seconds (1:55.52) with a standard deviation of 0.52 seconds.

This record was broken 7 times in less than 2 years, dropping 3.7 seconds off the previous record.   At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it took 30 years to drop the previous 3.7 seconds. Since 2009, a few swimmers have come reasonably close to breaking the record.  USA’s Allison Schmitt came the closest back in London (1.2 standard deviations away), more recently Katie Ledecky (1.43 away), Sarah Sjoestroem (2.1 away) and Ariane Titmus (2.53 away) have come close.  This event is likely too short for Ledecky to challenge the record and too long for Sjoestroem. Ariane Titmus is just 18 though, and she may be the one to give this record the threat it needs. Given her development curve and youth it could even happen soon.  Taylor Ruck (19) also has plenty of time and a good developmental curve on her side and Emma McKeon is also in the conversation. The presence of young talent that is already approaching “outlier” status gives this record more hope than all the ones preceding it.

Number 11: Men’s 400 Free- Paul Biedermann; 3:40.07

The data:  The 200 fastest swims since 2009 have a mean of 224.69 seconds (3:44.69) with a standard deviation of 1.26 seconds.   

Much like the 200 free record, the absurdity of Biedermann’s time is further emphasized by the fact that he never went below 3:44.14 ever again, much like he never swam faster than a 1:44.88 after 2009 in the 200 Free.  Biedermann also had the audacity to negative split this race at 1:51/1:49! Unlike the 200, this event has seen much more progress culminating in Sun Yang coming within 0.07 seconds and 0.055 standard deviations of back in London.  Even more frustrating for Sun Yang (speculating of course) is that he breathed every stroke into the wall and lifted his head as he finished. (Take notes kids!!). Since then Sun Yang and Mack Horton in recent years have been right around one standard deviation off the record.  Horton was way off earlier this summer at Aussie trials, so was it a bad meet or sign of a decline? Gabriele Detti of Italy has been 3:43.36 this past April so he may have more drop left in him this summer. As mentioned in the 800, there is also young talent coming up in the ranks such as Keisuke Yoshida, Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk.  

Number 10: Men’s 400 IM- Michael Phelps; 4:03.82

The data:  The 200 fastest swims since 2009 have a mean of 224.69 seconds (3:44.69) with a standard deviation of 1.26 seconds.   

The men’s 400 IM was lorded over by Michael Phelps for a 6-year period, dropping the record 8 different times at 8 different meets.  When Phelps arrived on the scene the record stood at 4:11.76, and when the dust finally settled at the Water Cube the clock stopped at 4:03.84.  Phelps never took the event seriously in the intervening years before trying to recapture glory in London only to finish off the podium. Ryan Lochte took the mantle and came within a second and a half in London but never closer.  Kosuke Hagino took the reins for a few years but has never broken 4:06. So why is this event ranked #6? Chase. Kalisz. Chase has taken 4 seconds off his best time since the 2016 Olympic Trials with a personal best of 4:05.90 in Budapest.  This requires a bit of projection, but at 25 years of age Chase likely knows that the 2019-2021 window represents his last reasonable shot at the record and Olympic Gold. Two seconds in this event isn’t anything to casually overlook, but at only 1.37 standard deviations away Chase has one of the better shots at a record as any swimmer on this list with one notable exception.

Number 9: Men’s 200 Fly- Michael Phelps; 1:51.51

The data:  The 200 fastest swims since 2009 have a mean of 114.58 seconds (1:54.18) with a standard deviation of 0.6 seconds

Unlike the previous records being discussed, this record came about in a slightly more organic progression.  Phelps dropped this record by roughly 3.6 seconds over an eight-year span, never taking more than 0.65 seconds off the previous record other than 1.62 second drop between February and March of 2007.  His 2009 record was a half second drop from his “just count the strokes” swim in Beijing. No other swimmer came within 2.5 standard deviations of that record in the following decade other than Phelps, Chad LeClos and Laszlo Cseh.  Then a young Hungarian named Kristof Milak burst onto the scene in 2017. Milak is still young (19) and making steady progress. He swam the fastest time since 2009 last year (1:52.71, just 2.01 standard deviations away from the record) and was 1:53.19 this spring.  Again, I wouldn’t bet money on this record going down this summer or next, but if it does Milak is your man. Cseh didn’t even make the Hungarian team in this event and LeClos peaked in this event back in 2012. Daiya Seto (JPN) and Tamas Kenderesi also have had strong swims the past few years but don’t have the same curve as Milak.  

Number 8: Men’s 200 Back- Aaron Peirsol; 1:51.92

The data:  The 200 fastest swims since 2009 have a mean of 115.06 seconds (1:55.06) with a standard deviation of 0.74 seconds

Peirsol and Ryan Lochte took just under two seconds off this record over the course 7 years before Peirsol took almost a second off the record at 2009 Worlds trials and then over a second off that new mark a few weeks later in Rome.  That was a staggering 2.02 second drop in the span of three weeks! Had Peirsol retired in 2008, Lochte would have broken his own mark in 2011 with his 1:52.96 in Shanghai. As it is that swim still stands as the second fastest ever and is 1.4 standard deviations off the world record.

Other than Lochte, only Mitch Larkin (AUS) and Evgeny Rylov (RUS) remain active swimmers that have come within two standard deviations of the world record.  Larkin’s 1:53.17 in 2015 was 1.7 standard deviations from the record and Rylov was 1.95 standard deviations away last year at 21 years of age. Notably, Ryan Murphy fired off a PB of 1:53.36 in 2018 which was 2.24 standard deviations away and it would not be wise to write him off despite being better suited to the 100.  Finally, rising Russian Kliment Kolesnikov set a World Junior Record in 2017 with a 1:55.16 that is nothing noteworthy by itself, but it does provide some possibility of growth in the future. Kliment does seem to favor the 100m distance showing great promise in the 100 back and free, as well as the SC 100 IM. He is still young though with time to develop that distance as he matures, although he dropped the event at worlds.  Between Kolesnikov, Murphy and Rylov there is plenty of youth and developmental curve left to go after Peirsol’s legendary record.

Tier 2 (Check Back Tomorrow!)

Tier 1 (coming soon)

About Charge Schmerker

Charge first got his feet wet at the age of 5 with the SugarLand Sharks in suburban Houston.  After swimming competitively through high school, he hung up his goggles to attend and eventually graduate from The University of Texas at Austin.  Although he swims now only swims for the exercise, he is still an avid fan of competitive swimming.

Charge is currently involved in educational consulting and teaches AP Statistics in Plano, TX.

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Wirotomo

For men 200m fly, i think we can add another name who possibly can broke the record: Gianluca Urlando.

Tim

Agreed. I also think that prime Phelps had more in this event and would have been 1:51 low or 1:50 in Beijing without the google malfunction.

Edit – so I am saying this is maybe not as unbeatable as the others? Even saying that sounds silly as all WRs are incredibly tough (obviously).

IU Swammer

Plus, Phelps was in a Speedo, and Speedo didn’t go full rubber like Jaked or some of the other true supersuit brands. Like you said, I’m in no way saying breaking his records will be easy, but maybe comparatively easier than super-supersuit records.

Charge

Correct, I’m not sure he’s in the conversation of breaking the record in the next 24 months but he sure is getting there fast.

tea rex

Phelps, 2008 condition…
with a blue70 or Arena bodysuit…
swimming only the 200 fly at Olympics…
the 1:50 barrier would have been in danger.

He could recover like nobody else, but in Beijing he had already swam 2x 400 IM, 100 free, 3x 200 free, 2×200 fly… wearing an inferior suit to what Cavic or Biedermann had in 2009… AND his freakin’ goggles failed! Still, a 1:52.0. Ridiculous.

Togger

Be interesting to know what Phelps would have done if the Speedo was the slowest suit in 2008, like it was in 2009.

In ‘09 he could take the high ground, legacy secured. In ‘08, would he have risked the sweep out of loyalty to Speedo?

Horninco

With that million dollar bonus? Likely not. How were the Jaked suits in Beijing different that in Rome?

ERVINFORTHEWIN

he is the best flyer we have seen since Phelps ( in Usa ) for the 200 fly record catch

bear drinks beer

Didn’t expect 400 free to be considered harder than 400 IM and 200 back. Biedermann’s WR was just 0.01 faster than Thorpe’s previous one, and Sun almost broke it in 2012. It’s not that untouchable without supersuit.

Dee

That shows us just what a freak of nature Thorpe was

Anon

The fact that 2001-2002 Thorpe’s swims would have won every Olympics since and prob 2020 and maybe even 2024 is pretty amazing

Togger

Agreed. Also, whilst I don’t like him, when Sun went 3.40 he was also in shape to go 13.30 odd in the 1,500 world record and have a 1.44 200 free, I don’t think any of the guys listed have that kind of combination in their locker.

Though the key lesson from both Sun and Thorpe is, if you’re a generational mid distance talent getting to the end of a 400 you’ve already got in the bag, for crying out loud still finish hard.

I_said_It

Thorpe also set that world record wearing a full body suit.

Param Parikh

Yes, but it was not the polyurethane suits that were the superior

ERVINFORTHEWIN

correct

N P

While it’s true he was wearing his trademark full body suit, I would like to make a comment against people who claim that gave him a huge advantage (I’m not saying you’re one of those). In 2002 he wore his full body suit thing and went 3:40.08.
But in 1999 (at the age of 16) he swam a 3:41.83, smashing the world record by 2 seconds – and he did it in a BRIEF. In a freaking brief. I’d say the fully body suit didn’t make that much of a difference to him.

Dee

3.44 at 15 still blows my mind. And he came to the sport relatively late. Just a total freak of nature, the like of which I doubt we’ll see again.

DLSwim

Except for Phelps.

frug

Maybe the best swim of my lifetime (Lezak’s 46.06 split is also in contention.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_FwRjBC8Io

17 years later and it is still the second fastest 400 fr. of all time. (FWIW, the only other pre-2008 swim that is still the textile WR is Phelps 1:52.09 200 fly from 2007).

ERVINFORTHEWIN

19 years of age – 18th WR – barely kicking up to the 300 meter mark -while Hackett had his turbo kicking already since the 100 ….Unbeleivable Thorpe !!!

anonymous

If you ask me, Thorpe’s swim is still the world record.

ERVINFORTHEWIN

one of a kind + His stroke is just for me the most beautiful in freestyle ….

Tim

I don’t think there is much in it between 400Fr and 400IM. Thorpe and Phelps both swam perfect races that looked so easy. I know Biedermann nicked it by 0.01 but no one is doing that last 100 without a suit so to break it now will take a swim more like Thorpe’s.

2012 Yang was amazing but I don’t look at those performances the same anymore.

Charge

You can reorder any of these IMO. It was easier to get them into tiers than ordering within the tiers. It was splitting hairs. Picking nits

Rachel

Right now, especially at the records that have already been broken, a lot of it is not so much about whether or not it is “reachable” as opposed to whether or not you have some kind of phenom. You can be skeptical about his swims, but Sun Yang was a phenom. There is no one today of his caliber in the 400 and more importantly, no young star looking to break into the ranks.

bear drinks beer

Lochte is also a phenom, but he was still more than a second away from both 4im and 2bk WR.

Charge

Take Yang’s 2011-2012 efforts out of the picture and he’s well over a second away from the record. In fact, take Yang and Horton out of the picture and this suddenly one of the least likely records to be broken.

bear drinks beer

Can’t buy this logic. Take Lochte’s 2012 effort out of the picture, then he was more than 3 seconds away from 4im WR. And if we take Lochte, Kalisz and Hagino out of the picture, the record would look as ridiculous as men’s 800fr.
Also have to remind you Park in 2010 was faster than Horton in 2016, so maybe you should take him out of your picture too.

Bob1235

I feel like men’s 200 back should be at the top, but other than that this is very solid.

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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