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Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 11:40 UK

Swimming's fastest year

By Ollie Williams

Russia's 4x100m medley relay team
Russia's 4x100m medley relay team set swimming's latest world record

Scarcely a day seems to have passed in March and April without a swimming world record being broken.

Thirty-seven world records have fallen so far this year - 29 since the controversial arrival of Speedo's LZR swimsuit in mid-February, and 18 at last week's World Short Course Championships in Manchester.

US coach Mark Schubert has predicted that nearly every remaining world record will tumble at Beijing this summer.

Are swimming's record books taking an unprecedented battering, or have this year's swimmers got work to do before they make a splash?

The answer is that 2008 is certainly shaping up to be an exceptional year.

By the end of Manchester's World Short Course event, 20 short course (25m) pool records had fallen in the year to date, alongside a further 17 in long course (50m pool) competitions.

That's six more world records than fell in the whole of 2007. But, so the argument goes, Olympic years always see a rush of new records as swimmers turn on the afterburner.

However, 2008 has already easily surpassed the number of world records set in the entire Olympic year of 2004 - and it is only mid-April.

The other companies just haven't put the effort in. They've focused more on fashion than performance, they need to get with it

Mark Schubert, US swimming coach, on new technology

By April 2004, in the build-up to Athens, only five world records had been beaten. The figure for 2008 is more than seven times that.

So Beijing's Olympic year has begun with a bang, but is it right to attribute this glut of records to new swimsuit technology?

It is hard to ignore the fact that 28 of the 29 records set since the LZR suit was introduced, two months ago, have been set by swimmers sporting the new kit.

Some have even abandoned lucrative sponsorship contracts to get their hands on the LZR, and Schubert says he "feels sorry" for swimmers left behind with other manufacturers' kit.

"Do you go for the money or go for the gold? They say the suit is rocket science but the statistics aren't. The other companies just haven't put the effort in.

"They've focused more on fashion than performance. They need to get with it, it's simple."

Looking back through the record books, the biggest year for world records in swimming's history is 2000 - another year where a swimmer's choice of kit seemed to make all the difference.

In that year the driving force of the Games in Sydney met the introduction of full-body swimsuits to Olympic swimming for the first time.

The same sort of buzz that now surrounds the LZR was being drummed up for the full-body suits as they were adopted at trials ahead of the Games.

Sixty-two world records were shattered that year - 31 each in long course and short course. But the new suits were being worn by some pretty exceptional figures.

Sydney's own Ian "Thorpedo" Thorpe, for example, took three Olympic gold medals in record time, lowering the global mark in the 400m freestyle and helping the Australian team do the same in the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.

Ian Thorpe at Sydney 2000
Of 82 swimming world records, these have survived since Athens 2004:
MEN - Long Course
400m/1500m free, 50m breast, 4x100m medley relay
WOMEN - Long Course
800m free, 100m fly
MEN - Short Course
200m/400m/800m/1500m free, 100m/200m breast, 100m/200m fly
WOMEN - Short Course
200m breast, 100m IM

Thorpe's 200m freestyle short course world record, set ahead of the Sydney Games in early 2000, is the second-oldest record in swimming.

Only American Janet Evans' 800m freestyle long course mark, established back in 1989, is older - and that is the only record to survive from the last century.

Since Athens, 66 of swimming's 82 disciplines have seen new world records.

The LZR, which will soon be joined by new designs from Speedo's rival manufacturers, is the biggest step forward in swimsuit technology since Sydney, so it is natural to expect another surge of world records.

But even if you subtract the LZR's 28 records from 2008's tally, you are still left with nine world records, almost twice the April 2004 figure.

The suggestion could be that, as in 2000, technological advances are meeting a crop of outstandingly gifted swimmers.


If you lower US coach Schubert's expectations slightly and say that three quarters of this summer's Olympic swimming events will produce new world records, that will push 2008 ahead of the 2000 total.

And the worrying thing is that the US Olympic trials - often a source of world records - have yet to take place.

In 2004, American swimmers added six world records at their pre-Athens trials so, come the finish of this year's trials in July, we may have a better idea of 2008's place in swimming history.

The signs are that we may be in for the biggest year the sport has ever seen.

see also
US coach says no record is safe
10 Apr 08 |  Swimming
GB coach cool on Olympic chances
14 Apr 08 |  Swimming
GB swimmers shine again at Worlds
12 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Gilchrist gold tops GB medal haul
11 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Tancock and Adlington set records
10 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Davies fights hard to win silver
13 Apr 08 |  Swimming

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