On August 10, 2008, Michael Phelps won the men’s 400 IM at the Beijing Olympic Games. It was his first of eight gold medals at that Games, which made him the most decorated athlete of all time at a single Olympics.
He won that event in a remarkable way, putting up a time of 4:03.84 to break his own world record by 1.41 seconds. To this day, Phelps is the only swimmer to have ever cracked the 4:05 barrier in the event.
In long course meters, this is the oldest world record still standing. It’s been more than 13 years since that historic performance. What probably few people know is that this is already one of the longest standing world records of all time in men’s swimming. Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published the list of the longest standing men’s swimming world records.
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Before analyzing Phelps’ record, it is worth noting that, among the 10 world records on the list, six were set in 2009, at the height of the high-tech suit era. Some of them have been threatened, like Cesar Cielo‘s standards in the 50 and 100 freestyle, and some of them seem to be years ahead of us, like Paul Biedermann‘ 200 free and Zhang Lin‘ 800 free.
There are only two male world records that have lasted longer than Phelps’ 400 IM world record. German Otto Fahr held the world record in the 200 back for 14 years from 1912 to 1926, and Britain’s Henry Taylor held the world record in the men’s 800 free for 13 years from 1906 to 1919.
It seems unlikely that Phelps’ world record will be broken until the end of this year, meaning he’ll likely pass Taylor on the list.
Since the world-leading time this year sits at 4:08.46 by American Carson Foster, and no one has swum under 4:06 since 2017, it also seems unlikely that we will see any athlete coming close to 4:03.84 over the next year. If it holds up, Phelps’ 400 IM world record will become the longest standing in men’s swimming history.
There is a long way for this record to become the longest standing in history, including men and women, though. Dutch Cornelia Kint held the women’s 100 backstroke world record for almost 21 years, from 1939 to 1960. Can Phelps hold the 400 IM world record for another eight or nine years to pass Kint?
Trivia: During the 2009 World Championships, Paul Biedermann broke Ian Thorpe‘s world record in the 400 free by one one-hundredth of a second. If it wasn’t for that, Thorpe’s standard would currently be the longest standing world record in men’s swimming history, since it had been set during the 2002 Commonwealth Games and would be lasting for more than 19 years.