Will Phelps’ 400 IM Become The Longest Standing Men’s World Record In History?

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.

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.

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There's no doubt that he's tightening up
9 days ago

400 IM times were a little slow at the Olympics, but let’s not forget that Lochte, Kalisz, Hagino and Seto have all been 4.06 low or better.

And although the 200 free is looking up after this year, we still haven’t had anyone come remotely close to Biedermann’s 1:42.00. Even Agnel was over a second back, which proportionally would translate to a 4.06 mid in the 400 IM.

Rafael

And this year was probably the best 200m we had in a long time.

2012 Silver was 1:44:9, even Park Suited Silver on 2008 was slower than Popovici 4th place time.

Except 2009 super suited 200m and this year the only time a 1:44 would not medal was 2011 (And even locthe winning time would be 3rd at this OG)

Tony

Those suits were an abomination. It’s worth noting that for the men, the suits added much more body coverage, so it’s not surprising that most women’s records from the suits era have fallen, while many of the men’s records have not. I think Caeleb is on the verge of breaking Cielo’s long course 50m & 100m free records, perhaps at WC in May 2022. I think it’s going to take a little longer for someone to break the 200m free & 200m back. I don’t see anybody breaking Phelps’ 400 IM in the next few years.

Dman
Reply to  Tony
8 days ago

I don’t see anyone breaking the 800m free record for 30 – 50 years. 3:46.0 back-to-back 400’s is insane

Phlip Phlop

Lochte and Hagino are retired. Kalisz will be lucky to go 4:08. Seto is the only one that currently has a shot, but Foster may get close in 3-5 if he continues developing.

Mr Piano
9 days ago

Ian Thorpe’s 3:40.08 with a long glide in 2002 would be 19 if it weren’t for Biedermann. Pain.

Charge
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Maybe Thorpe should have put his head down going into the wall.

I kid, I kid.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Charge
9 days ago

I mean as long as he finished with a fingertip touch I don’t think there’s anything else that matters.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Thorpe could have done 3.39 that day I think but he eased slightly on the last 50 and had a long finish. Apparently he said in an interview later that he didn’t realise how fast it was and wanted to save something for his other races.

He was so good at 400 Free – the best ever and completely dominant at the time. I don’t remember him losing a 400 from his breakout in 1997 until he retired in 2005.

frug
Reply to  The unoriginal Tim
9 days ago

Yeah, Thorpe said not going all out at the end of that 2002 race was his biggest regret. He had a big program that week so he was only planning on go fast enough to win the race so he eased up in the last 50 and completely took his foot off the gas in the final 10 meters or so (if you watch the race you clearly see when he pulls up).

Edit:

Here’s the article where Thorpe talks about it.

Last edited 9 days ago by frug
swimfast
Reply to  frug
8 days ago

same! if i had just finished faster in my 400.. wouldve gone 3:20..

Embacher
Reply to  frug
8 days ago

My boy Biedermann RAN HIM DOWN

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Is Paul Biedermann one of the most hated men in swimming just for these records? I kind of agree with the hate of the records it’s just funny because everyone else was wearing the same suits.

Crawler
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

True. It’s just that most people feel that Thorpe’s achievements been so extraordinary that his 400 record shouldn’t be broken by 1/100 sec when the benefits of the super suits were believed to be much bigger than that.

Mr Piano
Reply to  Crawler
9 days ago

Even Biedermann admitted that the suit helped like a second per hundred.

MICHAEL
Reply to  Mr Piano
8 days ago

Yeah can’t really hate the guy. Like Piano said, he openly admitted that the suits helped and said he hoped they did something to ban them. Don’t hate the swimmer, hate the suit…manufacturer…or something like that.

Troyy
Reply to  MICHAEL
8 days ago

FINA was to blame for not regulating swimsuits properly.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Crawler
9 days ago

Oh I agree Thorpe “deserves” the record more. I almost feel bad for PB though, almost.

Charge
Reply to  Crawler
9 days ago

Maybe Thorpe should have learned how to do a proper streamline in that body suit

Mr Piano
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

I mean the fact that he broke the 400 free by 0.01 then never came within 4-5 seconds before or after that record again is kinda sad for Thorpe. Biedermann was a great swimmer, but he was nowhere near Thorpe’s level in the 400.

Rafael
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Bieldermann was 3:44:14 on 2011 world.. and he was also a 1:44 swimmer and someone who could split 47 at that time unsuited..

Scotty P
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Welcome to why Beidermann gets all the hate.

Hillbilly
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

Does anyone actually hate Biedermann himself? I assumed people disliked the records because of the significance record holders he surpassed.

To be honest I couldn’t pick Biedermann out of a line up, but I definitely can identify the faces of the men who’s records he broke.

thezwimmer
Reply to  Hillbilly
9 days ago

It’s just unfortunate that his peak for swimming coincided with the peak of suit technology. I’m sure at all levels of swimming, there were athletes who thought that others were “undeserving” of their fast times due to suits.

Scotty P
Reply to  thezwimmer
9 days ago

Christian Sprengers 200m Breaststroke comes to mind.

thezwimmer
Reply to  Scotty P
9 days ago

Most likely, but I was referring to all levels of swimming, from Age Group to College to Masters.

Marcellusdale
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

Biedermann wasn’t too tier before the suit

swimfast
Reply to  coachymccoachface
8 days ago

yes. he is. mostly considering he erased the two most titanic swimmers in history’s most elusive records. if he never existed Phelps’ 200 free (1:42.96) and Thorpe’s 400 free (3:40.08) would still be the records. i’ll make a stretch and equate it to a conqueror tearing down buildings of a former elite ruler but then never really making a name for themself, leaving those to kinda wish they had just left the old buildings there to let everyone admire them ..

Rafael
Reply to  swimfast
8 days ago

If the suits never existed Phelps would not be the WR holder of 200 free.. And Locthe would be the WR holder on 400 IM

Last edited 8 days ago by Rafael
swimfast
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

? ?

no. trust me. the lazer legskins were literally at most if not less equal to today’s jammer tech suits. he also went 1:43.8 in 2007 in the “paper” suits which is absolutely inferior to modern material

Marcellusdale
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

I still get physically ill when I think about Biedermann’s WRs…

Tony
Reply to  Marcellusdale
8 days ago

Ditto re Cielo’s.

former D3 swimming prospect
9 days ago

What comes first? new 400 IM world record or sub 1:42 200 free?

Mr Piano
Reply to  former D3 swimming prospect
9 days ago

Depends if Popovic goes super saiyan in the next 5 years.

N80m80
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Y’all are sleeping on Hafnaoui. The kid is only 18 and probably has another 2 olympics in peak condition, and he’s already at a 3:43. Unless he gets injured, I see him getting really really fast in the next few years

Mr Piano
Reply to  N80m80
9 days ago

He would be a candidate to break 3:40, but he’s given no indication that he can swim 1:41. What’s his PB, 1:45 or 1:46?

Rafael
Reply to  Mr Piano
9 days ago

Far from that.

His PB on LCM

50: 25,89
100: 53,85
200: 1:50:45 (Which was his split on the 400)
His 800 is a 7:45 and his 1500 is 15:15

He seems like a Pure 400/800 swimmer, he might evolve a lot on his 100/200 but he does not seem like to have enough speed for a 200

dddddddd
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

50/100 were both of his splits on the 400

swimfast
Reply to  Rafael
8 days ago

his turns are also otherworldly-terrible for someone his height

Unknown Swammer
Reply to  swimfast
8 days ago

Even mediocre college coaching should help that – by the sheer nature of doing more of them training yards they should get a little better. Hopefully IU’s group can get them to at least respectable.

Togger
Reply to  former D3 swimming prospect
9 days ago

On the kind of gradual improvement curve you’d model probably the IM?

That 200 free is over a second slower than a performance from Agnel widely regarded as one of the all time great swims, it’s going to take something unreal to break it, but you certainly can’t rule out a Ledecky or Peaty type swimmer coming through and doing it.

The women’s 200 fly on the other hand is safe until someone gene dopes with dolphin DNA.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Togger
9 days ago

Yeah the gold medal winner this year was like 2? seconds slower than the WR and it was the fastest time since the record was set. Honestly even if she was doping, it’s impressive.

Rafael
Reply to  Togger
9 days ago

Popovici can have a shot of being these peaty like.

200 fly is crazy, Zhang swim was probably the best 200m fly EVER did (Maybe together with Mary T) and it still far from WR

Coach Macgyver
9 days ago

One issue with the 400 IM is it doesn’t attract a whole lot of swimmers. It’s longer and much more difficult than other races. At many meets, the 400IM takes place at the end of the meet and often requires a qualifying time for an athlete to be entered. Consider this on top of the fact many teams need to pack training lanes to make ends meet. When you have 5+ swimmers a lane training for a 400 IM, everyone needs to on to keep the flow going.

That being said, I’ve always had the upmost respect for athletes who continually compete in the 400 IM. It’s grueling and you have to be on another level of mental toughness to… Read more »

NICK
9 days ago

These records were with different technology, the so-called supersuits. It’s like comparing cycling records achieved by riders with and without fairings. Apples and oranges.

Eagleswim
Reply to  NICK
9 days ago

I don’t know, I do t think the lzr legs Phelps wore were quite that different from suits today.

TheSwimSuitGuy
Reply to  Eagleswim
9 days ago

I’d take modern suit over LZR legs

Murica
Reply to  TheSwimSuitGuy
8 days ago

^^^ this guy would know

jim
Reply to  NICK
9 days ago

Haha, I read your message as “…riders with and without feelings.” I was like, “dang, are riders without feelings better than riders WITH feelings? how does one mentally prepare to race without feelings?!?

swimfast
Reply to  NICK
8 days ago

mm no. i wore the lazer legskin (that phelps wore) in multiple 400 IM’s and while cool, it didn’t make me superman. frankly the very ends near the ankles always filled with water (and i wore the tightest size possible) and was honestly a pretty stiff suit….it was no where NEAR what the jaked full-body suit made me feel like. this isnt a PR for phelps, but the Lazer legskin was a jooooooooooke compared to the jaked full body. love speedo, but they weren’t anywhere near the money during this era. it was all jaked. anyone who wore speedo during this time period’s records should honestly be considered “clean”

Last edited 8 days ago by swimfast
Clownley Honks
9 days ago

No hate to Biedermann but it still pains me to think Thorpe would still be the 400 record holder if not for the suits, by .01s too.

FlyingButt
9 days ago

Looks like Phelps has actually held the WR since 2002. Started at 4:11 and dropped from there.

frug
Reply to  FlyingButt
9 days ago

The longest anyone has held a single WR continuously is Mary T. Meagher who held the 200 fly WR from July 1979 until May 2000. Phelps first broke the 400 IM in August 2002, so he needs his 2008 record to hold for about another 22 months to break Mary T.’s record. Given the state of the event that seems inevitable.

Edit:

FWIW, Thorpe first broke the 400 fr WR in August 1999, meaning if he Biedermann hadn’t slipped under his 2002 time, Thorpe would hold the record for longest held record with little chance of it being broken anytime soon.

Last edited 9 days ago by frug
Unknown Swammer
Reply to  frug
9 days ago

I had to redo that math like 4 times – the gap from 1979 to 2000 feels like it should be a ridiculous amount longer than the gap from 2002 through now…I feel old. Correction – I am old…

KllrWhle79
9 days ago

Not enough credit for Peirsol’s 200m back WR. Lochte was a full second off it at his absolute prime (2011), noone has been closer than 1.4s off in the last 6 years. Absolute stellar swim

Erik
Reply to  KllrWhle79
9 days ago

Love AP, but that swim was in ’09 in a fully body (Arena?) rubber suit versus Lochte in a jammer.

Rafael
Reply to  Erik
9 days ago

and Locthe time is amazing, expected Rylov to beat it and still not happened..

Huh?
Reply to  Erik
9 days ago

Wut? Peirsol’s WR was in a leg suit. I don’t remember him ever wearing full body in a big meet. A lot of backstrokers preferred legs to body suits.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xu7iqa_gxjs

WHKIRCH
Reply to  Erik
9 days ago

It was in a Arena rubber suit, but only a full-leg suit, not a full-body one.

bigNowhere
Reply to  Erik
9 days ago

It wasn’t full body. Peirsol only wore leggings.

Eagleswim
Reply to  Erik
9 days ago

What’s bizarre claim to make, he was not in a fully body