Column by John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, November 9. WE'RE counting down the days. A little less than two months remain before the high-tech suit craze comes to a close and the sport is no longer ruled by the material on swimmers' skins. To date, more than 200 world records have been set since Speedo unveiled the LZR Racer in February 2008. Several more went down over the weekend, during the Moscow stop on the World Cup Tour.
Once Jan. 1, 2010 rolls around, however, it could be a long time – a really long time – before some world records are wiped out. In some cases, it could be many years before certain standards are broken, unless FINA opts to adopt separate world-record lists. Here's a look at the five individual world records, in one man's opinion, that will be the toughest to take down without the assistance of a polyurethane power pack.
Ariana Kukors: 200 Individual Medley (2:06.15)
Before the high-tech suit era arrived, only one woman in history ever broke the 2:10 barrier in the 200 individual medley: China's Wu Yanyan. For those unfamiliar with the situation, she later tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use and earned a suspension. So, to clarify, no female has cracked 2:10 without the assistance of a booster – either drugs or polyurethane.
How, then, can we believe a woman will approach the time Kukors produced en route to the gold medal at last summer's World Championships? Honestly, we can't. This record, over four lengths of the pool, is four seconds swifter than anything ever produced in normal swimwear. Forget years, this standard could be around for decades.
Fred Bousquet: 50 Freestyle (20.94)
There was a time when clocking 21-point was a tremendous accomplishment, usually good enough to earn a medal at a major international competition. In the suit generation, Bousquet plowed through the 21-second barrier, slicing three tenths of a second off the previous world record of Eamon Sullivan in the process.
Considering the fact that Alex Popov's 21.64 was the world record for several years, there's no reasoning that a man will approach the low-21s at any point in the near future, let alone a time under 21 seconds. If it happens, it will be difficult to consider the swim anything less than the greatest performance in history.
Liu Zige: 200 Butterfly (2:01.81)
While many of the current world records were recorded at the World Championships in Rome, China's Liu Zige opened the world's eyes last month with a ridiculous showing in her home country. The reigning Olympic champion not only became the first woman to dip under 2:03 for the 200 fly, she blasted through the 2:02 realm.
At the 2007 World Championships, Jessicah Schipper claimed the gold medal with a clocking in the 2:06-range, a bit slower than her 2:05.40 world record of the time. We can expect the likes of Liu and Schipper to push times of 2:04-mid, but there is no way they will come remotely close to the 2:01-high that stands as the world mark.
Paul Biedermann: 400 Freestyle (3:40.07)
Making a decision here was a little tough, for we could have gone with Biedermann's world record in the 200 free or his standard in the 400 free. Ultimately, the choice was the longer distance, due to Biedermann breaking a world record of the greatest middle-distance freestyle in history, Aussie Ian Thorpe.
Thorpe was untouchable in the 400 free, his world mark of 3:40.08 revered as one of the toughest to tackle. Biedermann, in his Arena ammunition, managed to slice only a hundredth of a second off Thorpe's record. That says a lot. In an era where the suits were helping swimmers obliterate world records by large chunks, Thorpe's almost survived. Until we see another of Thorpe's ilk (not likely), good luck seeing this thing go.
Michael Phelps: 400 Individual Medley (4:03.84)
This performance was part of Michael Phelps' snowman at the Beijing Olympics, where he popped the greatest effort in Games history. Actually, it was his debut swim of the 2008 Olympics and was more than two seconds faster than what he went at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, where Phelps touched in 4:06.22.
Given the fact that Phelps has indicated he is done with the 400 individual medley, the possibility of anyone sniffing this record is minimal. If Phelps has a change of heart, or is convinced by coach Bob Bowman to tackle the event again, he's the one person who can give the record a run. Otherwise, forget about it.