Swimming

Analyzing The 2022 World Records: Has There Been A Recent Pattern?

This article originally appeared in the 2022 Year In Review edition of SwimSwam Magazine. Subscribe here to the SwimSwam Magazine here.

We have witnessed eight world records in long course meters in 2022 — slightly fewer than in 2021, when 10 world records were set.

In terms of individual events, there is a tie: six world records both in 2021 and 2022. In other words, there were more world records in relays last year, which was expected, since 2021 was an Olympic year.

2022 World Records (Long Course Meters)

Date
Event
Swimmer
Time
Meet

April 28
Men’s 50 Back
Hunter Armstrong (USA)
23.71
U.S. Team Trials

May 19
Men’s 200 Breast
Zac Stubblety-Cook (AUS)
2:05.95
Australian Team Trials

May 22
Women’s 400 Free
Ariarne Titmus (AUS)
3:56.40
Australian Team Trials

June 20
Men’s 100 Back
Thomas Ceccon (ITA)
51.60
World Championships

June 21
Men’s 200 Fly
Kristof Milak (HUN)
1:50.34
World Championships

June 24
Mixed 4×100 Free
Australia
3:19.38
World Championships

July 31
Women’s 4×200 Free
Australia
7:39.29
Commonwealth Games

August 13
Men’s 100 Free
David Popovici (ROU)
46.86
European Championships

In 2022, three world records were set during the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. In men’s 100 backstroke, Thomas Ceccon broke the 6-year-old standard by Ryan Murphy by 0.25 in 51.60. Kristof Milak improved his own world record from the 2019 World Championships in the men’s 200 butterfly in 1:50.34, and the Australian team set a global record in the 4×100 mixed freestyle relay in 3:19.38.

Before that, two world records were set during the Australian Swimming Team Trials. Zac Stubblety-Cook became the first man to ever crack the 2:06 in the 200 breaststroke in 2:05.95. And Ariarne Titmus finally managed to surpass Katie Ledecky’s former world record from 2016 in 3:56.40.

Australian swimmers set another world record during the Commonwealth Games in the women’s 4×200 freestyle in 7:39.29, improving the former standard by China from 2021 by more than a second.

It was American Hunter Armstrong who set the first world record in 2022, when he won the men’s 50 backstroke during the U.S. International Team Trials in April in 23.71.

And the last world record in long course meters set this year was maybe the most anticipated. David Popovici, age 17, won the men’s 100 freestyle in 46.86 during the European Championships in Rome last August, and broke Cesar Cielo’s long-standing standard from 2009 by 0.05.

At the end of the day, we saw world records at the main international events of the year: World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships, as well as the main domestic competitions – U.S. and Australian team trials.

Most world records were in men’s events – is that a coincidence?

It is worth noting that the majority of world records were set by men. In individual events, there were five of them on the male side and only one set by a woman.

It doesn’t mean that there were no fast times in women’s events — there were plenty of remarkable female performances during 2022, but many of them came less than 1 percent within the time of the world record, such as: Sarah Sjostrom in 50 freestyle, Ariarne Titmus in 200 freestyle, Katie Ledecky in 800 and 1500 freestyle, Katharine Berkoff in 50 backstroke, Regan Smith in 100 backstroke, Torri Huske in 100 butterfly, Alex Walsh in 200 IM, and Summer McIntosh in 400 IM.

Interestingly, this is a pattern we have been witnessing in the last few years, as shown in the following chart.

Distribution of World Records by Year and Gender Since 2011

(Percentage by Gender over the World Records Set in the Given Year)

Since the high-tech polyurethane suits were banned from swimming in 2010, we have seen 74 world records in individual events: 32 in men’s events and 42 in women’s events. But it is worth noting the distribution of the world records by gender and by year.

The first two world records set in long course meters after 2009 came in 2011 in men’s events (Sun Yang in the 1500 free and Ryan Lochte in the 200 medley during the 2011 World Championships). But in the years that followed, we saw many more world records in women’s events than in men’s events. For six consecutive years (2012-2017), female swimmers set five or more world records in individual events in each year — way more than male swimmers. In 2013, six world records were set, and all were by female swimmers.

Since 2018, however, there have been more world records in men’s events. In 2019 and 2022 there were five world records set by male swimmers, more than in any other year since 2010. In 2022, 83 percent of the individual world records were set in men’s events.

There are still some long-standing world records to go

Some people argue that, in the first years after the high-tech suits ban, we saw more world records in women’s events because female swimmers kept on wearing suits that cover most of the body. Of course, these suits are not made of polyurethane, but still have some level of compression, support and ease of movement. On the other hand, the male swimmers have been allowed to wear only leg short jammers, which represents a huge difference from the full body suit from 2009. From this point of view, in terms of suits, women’s suits have been closer to those 2009 suits than men’s have. By this argument, that’s why women started to break many more records than men.

With the evolution of sport, by 2018 the men reached a level that they could challenge those world records set nine years ago. That’s when they started to break world records more frequently, even surpassing women’s figures by year.

Among the current world records, there are still more individual world records set during the super suit era (2008-09) on the men’s side (five) than on the women’s side (two). There are some other male swimmers who have been coming close to breaking long-standing world records, such as David Popovici in 200 freestyle, Gregorio Paltrinieri in 1500 freestyle, and Leon Marchand in 400 IM. Is this a good indicator that the pattern will continue in the coming years?

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