Eight Years Later, the Super Suit Era Still Plagues the Record Books

Cesar Cielo Doha 2014
Photo Courtesy: FINA

By Jason Tillotson, Swimming World College Intern.

As we begin 2018, we inevitably look back on the accomplishments and milestones we saw this year. Big moments like Adam Peaty’s 50 breaststroke and Sarah Sjostrom’s 100 freestyle world records from the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest come to mind but, perhaps more interestingly, despite those new world marks, the swimming world still has a long road to recovery, in terms of overcoming the polyurethane “super” suit era.

One might find it easy to forget what happened to the record books eight years ago. In the year 2009 alone, 147 world records were broken in super suits and 43 of those records were set at the 2009 World Championships in Rome.

What is even more interesting is the fact that 13 of those world records between the men’s and women’s long course events set in 2009, still stand today. Six of those 13 are in sprint events, meaning 100 meters or shorter, which would suggest that the distance swimmers of the world have had an easier time recovering from 2009 than the sprinters.


Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

The year 2017 did see some world records though, exactly seven in the long course pool, and many near eclipses as well. Caeleb Dressel nearly shattered several world records this summer in three events, all of which were 100 meters or shorter, which further indicates that the swimming world’s long road to recovery is coming to an end. Dressel’s impressive summer included a challenge to Michael Phelps’ 100 butterfly world record of 49.82 by posting a 49.86. The young American sprint superstar almost nabbed new world marks in the 50 and 100 free as well. Both records belong to Brazil’s sprint freestyle legend Cesar Cielo, who put up times of 20.91 and 46.91, respectively, in 2009. Dressel put up times of 21.15 in the 50 free and 47.17 in the 100 free.

Outside of Dressel’s world record scares, this summer China’s Sun Yang came within a second and a half of Paul Biedermann’s 400 freestyle world record of 3:40.07. Sun posted a 3:41.38 in Budapest, which was the closest we have seen someone get to the elusive 3:40 barrier since 2009.

The world records in the backstroke events were nearly erased when France’s Camille Lacourt swam to a 24.30 in the 50 backstroke, just missing Liam Tancock’s 24.04 from 2009. On the women’s side Brazil’s Etiene Medeiros put together a 27.14, which narrowly missed Zhao Jing’s 2009 world record of 27.06. Canada’s Kylie Masse was able to get past a super-suit time with her 58.10 in 100 backstroke, which was just two one-hundredths off Gemma Spofforth’s 58.12 set in Rome.

Brazil’s Nicholas Santos swam to a 22.61 in the 50 butterfly this summer which almost surpassed the 22.43 Spain’s Rafael Muñoz posted in 2009.

Once all those nearly broken records are actually broken, we will have seven less world records that were set in 2009 remaining on the books. When that milestone is reached we will be one step closer to fully eradicating all records from the super suit era, which would conclude the path to recovery from the year that changed the sport of swimming for practically a decade.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. avatar

    Sun went 3:40 in london

    • avatar

      Exactly. Bad Article.

  2. avatar
    Lane Four

    There was a similar discussion when the Berlin Wall went down and the East German swimming dynasty was finally laid to rest. So many people wondered how long it would take to break ALL of the women’s world records established by the East Germans. The wall went down in 1989 and the last of the East German records went bye-bye at the 2004 Olympics in the women’s 800 freestyle relay. So, super-suit or super-drugged, eventually natural talent comes through and does what nature intended with hard work and a focused mind. I predict that Dressel takes down all three records this summer from the 2009 World championships.

  3. avatar
    David Abineri

    One of the worst blunders of FINA not to allow at least a year or so of testing new technologies before adopting them officially!

    I am cynical and suspect a rather large kickback was received somewhere.

  4. avatar
    Mark Spofforth

    A point of clarification Gemma Spofforth’s Rome backstroke record was not set wearing a plastic suit, even though they were allowed then.

  5. Charlie Lownes

    Mary T and Janet plagued the record books for decades because they were just better!

  6. avatar

    Caeleb Dressel nearly shattered several world records…….Who writes/thinks like this…last time I checked if you shatter something.. you TOTALLY destroy it….nearly shatters..keep saying it over and over….got it…good….thank you..lol