SwimmingRanking the Men's World Records From Softest to Most Challenging

Ranking the Men’s World Records From Softest to Most Challenging


Ranking the Men’s World Records From Softest to Most Challenging

Our sport’s world-record book features 17 individual standards for long-course competition. Some of the marks are newer in age, such as the three-month-old 100-meter freestyle record of Romanian teenager David Popovici. Some are more mature, namely Michael Phelps’ 14-year-old effort in the 400 individual medley from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

As the end of the 2022 campaign approaches, here is a ranking of the current world records from softest to hardest, otherwise known as most-likely to least-likely to go. The records are rated based on two primary factors. 1) Strength of the world-record time; 2) Whether an athlete has recently pressed the standard.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the top of the list is heavy on performances from the 2009 World Championships in Rome. That competition, of course, was ruled by polyurethane super suits, with technology outweighing raw ability.

Away we go:

17. 100 Freestyle: David Popovici (2022) – 46.86

Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The ranking of this record in the No. 17 slot has nothing to do with it being a weak mark. Rather, David Popovici is such a special talent that it’s only a matter of time before the reigning world champion brings this time even lower. The 18-year-old possesses a once-in-a-generation skill set, and his global standard from the summer was just the start of major achievements to come.

16. 50 Backstroke: Hunter Armstrong (2022) – 23.71

Sprint backstroke is stacked with talent, from Hunter Armstrong and Justin Ress in the United States to Kliment Kolesnikov of Russia. With this event seeing a major drop from 24.00 in the past two years, the timing seems ripe for the event to go into the 23-mid realm.

15. 100 Backstroke: Thomas Ceccon (2022) – 51.60

Led by current standard-bearer Thomas Ceccon of Italy, there are too many sub-52 standouts in the sport for this record to endure. Ceccon is joined by the likes of Ryan Murphy, Hunter Armstrong and Russians Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov in chasing something in the 51.50 area – or faster.

14. 200 Breaststroke: Zac Stubblety-Cook (2022) – 2:05.95

The 200 breaststroke has been due for a major drop, and Aussie Zac Stubblety-Cook supplied it with the first sub-2:06 outing in history during the first half of 2022. Perhaps Japan’s Shoma Sato can rekindle his 2021 excellence and join the Australian in the 2:05 range.

13. 200 Butterfly: Kristof Milak (2022) – 1:50.34.

MILAK Kristof HUN 200m Butterfly Men Semifinal Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 20/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kristof Milak: Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Let’s get one thing out of the way. For now, this record can only be broken by one person: Kristof Milak. No one else is even close. But the Hungarian is getting better, and as he storms toward the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, popping a sub-1:50 swim is well within reach.

12. 1500 Freestyle: Sun Yang (2012) – 14:31.02

At the World Championships in Budapest, Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri clocked the No. 2 performance of all-time, touching the wall in 14:32.80. Yes, there is room to go to Sun Yang’s world record, but Paltrinieri and American Bobby Finke – along with Florian Wellbrock and Mykhailo Romanchuk – could feed off each other in the pursuit.

11. 400 Individual Medley: Michael Phelps (2008) – 4:03.84

This iconic record of Michael Phelps, set at the 2008 Olympic Games, used to rank much higher on the chart. The reason it has dipped? Two words: Leon Marchand. Marchand gave the record a push at the World Champs in Budapest, and with Carson Foster out there as a rival, Phelps’ record is in critical condition.

10. 100 Butterfly: Caeleb Dressel (2021) – 49.45

The likelihood of this record disappearing probably hinges on the future of Caeleb Dressel, and when he returns to the pool and in what form. Hungarian Kristof Milak has been 49.68, placing him within striking distance, but it might take a matchup with Dressel to elicit something quicker.

9. 400 Freestyle: Paul Biedermann (2009) – 3:40.07

paul-biedermann-arena-signing (1)

Photo Courtesy: arena

One of two world records set by German Paul Biedermann at the 2009 World Championships, this standard is weaker than his 200 freestyle mark. A couple of sub-3:42s this year have generated optimism this record could be wiped out sooner than later, but work clearly remains.

8. 200 Individual Medley: Ryan Lochte (2011) – 1:54.00

During a spectacular show at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, this record was the highlight of what Ryan Lochte accomplished. While Leon Marchand was 1:55-low over the summer, the gap to 1:54-flat remains sizable, and the numerous sub-1:55 outings from Lochte and Michael Phelps are that much more dazzling.

7. 50 Butterfly: Andriy Govorov (2018) – 22.27

At the most-recent World Championships, American Caeleb Dressel captured gold in this event in 22.57. It was a superb performance, but one that was still .30 off the world record of Ukrainian Andriy Govorov. With 22-mid existing as a dynamic mark, Govorov can breathe easy.

6. 50 Breaststroke: Adam Peaty (2017) – 25.95

Not only is Britain’s Adam Peaty the only man in history to crack the 26-second barrier in the event, he owns the nine-fastest performances. At 26.33, Felipe Lima is the No. 2 performer of all-time, so we’ll sit back and wait for someone to get in position to make any sort of challenge.

5. 50 Freestyle: Cesar Cielo (2009) – 20.91

For a while, this record was under assault by American Caeleb Dressel, who was consistently 21-low in big moments. But with Dressel withdrawing from the World Championships last summer and no timeframe set for his return to action, Cesar Cielo’s blast looks like it will hang around for a bit longer.

4. 100 Breaststroke: Adam Peaty (2019) – 56.88

A look at the history of this event reveals that Adam Peaty is almost a second faster than anyone else, so if someone is going to take it down, it’s the British star. But Peaty had a lackluster 2022 and until he flashes some of his past brilliance, the record in the 100 breast seems safe.

3. 200 Freestyle: Paul Biedermann (2009) – 1:42.00

This record would have contended for one of the top-two positions on the list, given that no one has sniffed the effort since Paul Biedermann hydroplaned his way to the world title in 2009. But when David Popovici clocked 1:42.97 at the European Championships last summer, the record became attainable – if only at the moment – for a single athlete.

2. 200 Backstroke: Aaron Peirsol (2009) – 1:51.92

Peirsol,A. 08 5486

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Now more than 13 years old, this mark from American Aaron Peirsol was another from the 2009 World Championships in Rome. Only once since Peirsol posted that time has an athlete gone sub-1:53, and that was Ryan Lochte at the 2011 World Championships in 1:52.96.

1. 800 Freestyle: Zhang Lin (2009) – 7:32.12

From the super-suit era, this record is the equivalent of back-to-back 3:46.06 marks in the 400 freestyle. No one is putting together equivalent halves of that ilk anytime soon, especially considering the top time in the world for 2022 sits to Bobby Finke at 7:39.36. This one is going to hang around for a while.





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