Worlds Records on the Cusp of Breaking a New ‘Second Barrier’

by Riley Overend 9

June 14th, 2024 News

Courtesy of Jason Cirone

Before every major swimming event we usually speculate about world records most likely to be taken down. This time, we take a unique look at which have the greatest chance of entering the new “second barrier” in either Paris or at qualifying meets in the lead up.

The swimming world is in awe when a swimmer breaks a new world record, and even more when that swim enters a new second barrier. Who can forget marveling at Adam Peaty as he took the 100m breaststroke into 57-second territory in 2015, and then into the insane 56-second range in 2019? And in the women’s 100m backstroke, we saw Natalie Coughlin take the women’s world record under a minute for the first time in 2002. More recently, Regan Smith blasted the 58-second barrier with her 57.57 swim in 2019. The following list ranks the top six swims most likely to enter a new second barrier. While some world records are very closer to the next barrier (i.e. men’s 200m freestyle at 1.42.00), there haven’t been recent swims to suggest they are in any danger anytime soon.

Men’s 400m Freestyle

As one of the most anticipated events in Paris, the men’s 400m freestyle is loaded with swimmers knocking on the door of the world record. Lukas Martens leads the field with a super fast 3.40.33 from last month, with Sam Short having swum 3.40.68 to win the 2023 world championship title. Paul Biedermann‘s 400m freestyle world record (3.40.07) has been on the books since 2009, controversially erasing Ian Thorpe’s 3.40.08 by the smallest of margins – aided by a supersuit. We may not only be treated to a world record in this event in Paris, we could see this event enter the 3:39 territory.

Men’s 1500m Freestyle

At 14.31.02, the men’s 1500m freestyle world record from 2012 has looked in danger for some time, but it has survived several scares over the past decade. Three swimmers have posted monster times over the past year with Daniel Wiffen leading the charge at 14.34.07 in February on the heels of a recent short course world record. Gregorio Paltrinieri and Florian Wellbrock are also close to their best times, and we’d be foolish to dismiss the reigning Olympic champion Bobby Finke, who posted an impressive 14.31.59 at last year’s World Championships. Sun Yang‘s record is definitely in danger in Paris ,and if the leaders pace each other well, we may not only see a first 14:30 swim, but we could also see the first man in the 14:20s.

Women’s 200m Backstroke

This world record has continued to be improved over recent years, with the current standing of 2.03.14 set by Kaylee McKeown last year. This looks to be a two-horse race with McKeown and Regan Smith dominating this event over the past several years. Much has been made of Smith’s ability to step up in the big meets, however she’s more experienced now and swimming faster than ever. Her American record in the 100m back (57.51) also suggests she is in career-best form, and her former world record of 2.03.35 is well within reach for her, come the Olympics. This will be a race to watch in Paris, with Smith likely to take out the first 100m in blistering speed, and Kaylee dropping a signature last 50m. Will one or both enter 2:02 territory? I think so.

Women’s 200m Individual Medley

Nearly 10 years old, the current world record set by the legendary Katinka Hosszu in 2015 stands at 2.06.12. This has been another standard under threat since the emergence of Summer McIntosh, and more recently with her fresh world record in the 400m IM. This event is always interesting as lead changes reflect the different strengths of the swimmers. We have five genuine contenders for the Olympic title, four from Canada and the U.S. all within the 2:07 range recently. Kaylee McKeown leads the pack with a 2.06.99 from April. With this event really heating up in recent years, we may just see the first 2:05 in Paris or at Australian/U.S. Olympic Trials.

Women’s 400m Freestyle

The last 10 years has seen this world record fall from Federica Pellegrini’s 3.59.15 to 3.58 in 2014 (Katie Ledecky), then a massive drop in 2016 (3.56.46) bypassing the 3.57’s altogether, followed by more records by Ariarne Titmus and Summer McIntosh since 2022. Titmus’ current record stands as the only 3.55 (3.55.38) swim in history, but McIntosh’s former world record of 3.56.08 at last year’s Canadian Trials and her newly-minted 400m IM record suggests she is in peak form and should challenge Titmus. This record is still a few tenths away from 3.54 range, but since these longer events are known for big drops, we could see one or multiple swimmers enter the new barrier.

Women’s 100m Backstroke

The final event we list is the women’s 100m backstroke. Since entering the 57-second barrier in 2019, this record has come down twice more, both times by reigning Olympic champion Kaylee McKeown. Currently standing at 57.33 seconds, the standard is still a bit outside 56-second territory, but the red-hot racing of McKeown and Regan Smith has this record under threat. The women’s 100m backstroke has often been compared to the men’s 100m breaststroke in times, and whilst Adam Peaty has been the only swimmer to enter the 56-second barrier for that event, it shows what is possible with talent and the perfect swim. This record is on borrowed time, and 56 seconds is not too far away.

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27 days ago

I love seeing any new WR. But breaking barriers makes them most specialist…14:30 mile, 3:40 4fr, 1:50 2fr seen to be the next 3. Maybe in my lifetime.

28 days ago

This 1500 is gonna be all Finke I think. They’re no longer scared of his closing speed, so he’s been clearly working on his opening speed with the 400 as focus, and his in-season times have been devious so far

B+ Masters Swimmer
28 days ago

Leon 3:59 400 IM?

Reply to  B+ Masters Swimmer
28 days ago


College Sports Union Member
Reply to  applesandoranges
28 days ago

I hear you, 3:59 is an absurd time… but then again what would have been your answers to:

Leon 1:36 200 IM?
Leon 3:28 400 IM?
Leon 4:02 500?
you get the point

He won’t break 4 minutes… he probably won’t break 4 minutes… he may not break 4 minutes…

The greatest swimmer of his generation, entering his prime, for a home Olympics, being coached by the previous WR holder and GOAT’s coach… speaking of, I’m remembering a quote from the last time Marchand swam the 400 IM:

“I said to Bob earlier this year: I think this kid has the potential to break 4 minutes in the 400 IM” (may have been around the 5:08 mark… Read more »

28 days ago

the women’s 200 free now. 1:51

Genevieve Nnaji
28 days ago

I know this article was written a while ago, but now that Titmus and Mollie have taken 200 free WR to 1:52 low, will there be a chance that it will be lowered to 1:51 in Paris?

It’s an unthinkable thought just a year ago.

28 days ago

The Natalie C sub-1:00 in back was 2002
Though the article is dated today, it is missing Australian Trials times which have been quicker than what the article states.

Last edited 28 days ago by OldNotDead
Reply to  OldNotDead
24 days ago

Like Titmus swimming 3:55.44, her second 400m under 3:56.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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