CBC Sports

Olympics2012Swimming world records tumble despite suit bans

Posted: Friday, August 3, 2012 | 09:55 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

Back to accessibility links
American Missy Franklin, right, reacts with amazement after breaking the world record in the women’s 200-metre backstroke on Friday in London. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)
American Missy Franklin, right, reacts with amazement after breaking the world record in the women’s 200-metre backstroke on Friday in London. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Supporting Story Content

End of Supporting Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Beginning of Story Content

While we'll never see a repeat of the 43 world records set at the 2009 world championships, swimmers won't have the difficulty of creating new marks as previously imagined.
It wasn't supposed to happen this fast.

When swimming's governing body FINA decided to ban the high-tech polyethylene rubberized bodysuits in early 2010, the majority of the world records - most agreed - would last for a good number of years.

FINA made the decision on the heels of what many critics labelled a sham of a world championship in 2009 as 43 world records were smashed at a ridiculous rate in Rome.

The records came at every turn - heats, semifinals, and finals. This was after 25 world records were set at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The rubberized suits gave swimmers the ability to float on top of the water, thus allowing them more speed and less friction to deal with.

Since Rome, only American swimmer Ryan Lochte had been able to register one world record when he broke his own Rome mark in the men's 200-metre individual medley at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai.

"I thought it was going to take quite a while to break them," said CBC Sports swimming analyst Byron MacDonald.

Yet here we are, seven days into the swimming competition at the London Olympics, and seven world records have fallen.

The steady stream of new marks include: American Missy Franklin (2:04.06) in the women's 200-metre backstroke, China's Ye Shiwen (4:28.43) in the women's 400 individual medley, Dana Vollmer (55.98), of the U.S., broke her mark in the women's 100 butterfly (55.98).

Compatriot Rebecca Soni set two world records in the women's 200-breaststroke on consecutive days - first in the semifinal (2:20.00) and then taking gold in 2:19.59.

On the men's side, South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh set the 100 breaststroke mark (58.46), while Hungary's Daniel Gyurta (2:07.28) bettered the 200 breaststroke record. (Check out our infographic which outlines these performances in more detail)

Others came close. Sun Yang, of China, just missed the men's 400 freestyle mark by 0.07th of a second. American swimming legend Michael Phelps nearly regained his world record from Lochte in the 200 IM, only to fall 0.27 of a second short at the wall.

What's changed?

But why now? What's changed since the ban two years ago that's allowed these once thought of untouchable records to tumble so quickly?

"Swimmers today are bigger and stronger," said CBC Sports host Steve Armitage, who has called numerous Olympic swimming events. "They have changed their training schedule. The coaches have obviously pressed upon their swimmers that [the records] can be taken down."

Armitage also notes that since teenagers like Franklin, who is 17, and the 16-year-old Ye never raced in the rubberized swim wear era like their older competitors, they were never psychologically tied to the furor over the suits worn in Rome.

MacDonald adds that during an Olympic year, swimmers ratchet up their core training and overall fitness.

"You do a lot more training in the Olympic year than any other time. You're usually just a little bit fitter and that's the difference between [breaking] the record and not [breaking] a record," he said.

Interestingly, more than half the world marks in London have come in the breaststroke. When the high-tech suits were first introduced, experts believed it would have a negative effect on the breaststrokers because they sat high on the water, negating the power generated from their legs.

"Those predictions now are coming true if you look at what's been happening in London," said MacDonald.

While we'll never see a repeat of Rome, the performances in London are proving swimmers won't have the difficulty of setting new world records as previously imagined.

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media