History of world records in swimming

How have the world record times in swimming changed over the years? Choose an event and see. Once the resulting graph appears, you will be able to add other events for comparison.

Female Male     Short course Long course       

"Short course" events are swum in a 25m pool and "Long course" events are swum in a 50m pool.

The changes in world record times since the early twentieth century have been dramatic. For example, the record time for the female short course 100m breast stroke fell from over 1:37 in 1921 to under 1:06 in 2002. The 1921 world record time for this event is a few seconds slower than the qualifying time for 11 and under girls for the Ontario Provincial Championships in 2008, and the 1965 world record time is slower than the time of the fastest 12 year olds in Ontario in 2007.

Why have the record times decreased so much? Here are some possible reasons.

  • Training methods have changed. In particular, training has become much more intense.
  • Human health has improved, and body size and strength have increased.
  • Swimming pools have become available to a much greater fraction of the world's population.
  • Rules have changed.

Male-female differences

How has the ratio of the record for females to that of males in a given event changed over time?

Short course Long course       

Long course-short course differences

How has the ratio of the long course record to the short course record for a given distance and stroke changed over time?

Female Male       

Site created by Martin J. Osborne. Questions and comments welcome.