Ranking the Women’s World Records: Which Are Safe and Which Are In Jeopardy?

Liu Zige -- Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

Women’s World Records: Which Are Safe and Which Are In Jeopardy?

While five men’s long course world records have been broken in 2022, with Hunter Armstrong, Zac Stubblety-Cook, Thomas Ceccon, Kristof Milak and David Popovici all recording history-making swims between April and August. But on the women’s side, the only world record to go was in in the women’s 400 freestyle as Ariarne Titmus knocked off Katie Ledecky’s six-year-old standard for the first long course global mark of her already-remarkable career.

As we reach the end of 2022, which of the records look set to be challenged in the coming years? And which of them are so safe no one is dreaming of such achievements. Let’s take a look at the 17 women’s world records and rank them from safest to in the most danger. The records are rated based on two primary factors. 1) Strength of the world-record time; 2) Whether an athlete has recently pressed the standard.

We already listed the ranking of men’s records, and here is what the list looks like for women:

17. 400 Freestyle — Ariarne Titmus (3:56.40)

After Titmus broke this record while essentially racing against the clock at this year’s Australian Trials, it’s not hard to imagine her taking another shot at the standard in the future years, particularly when she matches up against Katie Ledecky and Summer McIntosh. Titmus and Ledecky brought out the best in each other as they raced for Olympic gold in 2021, while the 16-year-old McIntosh has an enormous ceiling and is riding a trend of massive improvement, so it would be no surprise if she ends up with this record one day.

16. 100 Butterfly — Sarah Sjostrom (55.48)

Of the four world records Sjostrom owns, this one is by far the most susceptible. The 29-year-old from Sweden has focused more on sprint free and the 50 fly in recent years, but Canada’s Maggie Mac Neil, China’s Zhang Yufei, the USA’s Torri Huske and Australia’s Emma McKeon have all posted times within a quarter-second of the mark in the last two years. Huske dominated the World Championships final with a mark of 55.64, while Mac Neil is looking to reclaim her form that lifted her to Olympic gold in 55.59.

15. 100 Backstroke — Kaylee McKeown (57.45)

The three fastest women in history in this event, McKeown, Regan Smith and Kylie Masse, all posted times just off the record in 2021, and while only Smith went under 58 this year, it is definitely plausible that multiple swimmers could make a run at this record within the next two years.

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Federica Pellegrini — Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu/ISL

14. 200 Freestyle — Federica Pellegrini (1:52.98)

This is another record Titmus is in pursuit of, and she is the second-fastest woman in history in the event at 1:53.09, just a tenth shy of Pellegrini’s 13-year-old mark. This is one of just two world records remaining from the era of polyurethane suits, and after Titmus has come so close on so many occasions, you have to think she will get the mark before long.

13. 50 Breaststroke — Benedetta Pilato (29.30)

Pilato has been a staple on the international scene since 2019, but she is still only 17 years old, and she just set this world record last year. So she is absolutely in range to lower the mark, while the top 50 breaststroker this year was Ruta Meilutyte, a resurgent 25-year-old who won Olympic gold in the 100 breast a decade ago. Pilato swam as fast as 29.59 this year. Fast-improving 19-year-old Lara Van Niekerk is another threat to reach world-record level.

12. 200 Breaststroke — Tatjana Schoenmaker (2:18.95)

This is another relatively new record as Schoenmaker pulled away from Lilly King in last year’s Olympic final to become the first woman ever under 2:19. The event slowed significantly in 2022 as Schoenmaker skipped Worlds before topping the field at Commonwealth Games in 2:21.92 while King was off her best form at Worlds but came through to win the gold medal in 2:22.41. Can Schoenmaker and/or King return to their best form? Can Kate Douglass convert her short course success to long course? And could Russia’s Evgeniia Chikunkova, currently banned from international competition along with all Russians, be the next star in the event?

11. 50 Backstroke — Liu Xiang (26.98)

The only 26-second performance in history came back in 2018, but we have seen swimmers reach down into the 27-low range this year. World champion Kylie Masse and Americans Katharine Berkoff and Regan Smith have come the closest. A little more speed could put this record in reach next year.

Foto Alfreedo Falcone - LaPresse 16-08-2022 Roma sport nuoto European Acquatics Roma 2022 nella foto.Sara Sjostrom 2022-08-16 Rome Sport swimming European Acquatics Rome 2022 in the photo:Sara Sjostrom

Sarah Sjostrom — Photo Courtesy: Alfreedo Falcone/LaPresse

10. 50 Freestyle — Sarah Sjostrom (23.67)

We’re now reaching the realm of “maybe.” While Sjostrom’s 100 fly is in real jeopardy, her other long course marks look safer. Emma McKeon came fairly close to the 50 free time of 23.67 with her 23.81 at last year’s Olympics, but this year, Sjostrom (23.98) and McKeon (23.99) only squeaked under 24. It’s plausible for one of them to make that jump but not definite, and no other swimmers are within striking distance.

9. 100 Freestyle — Sarah Sjostrom (51.71)

Another Sjostrom sprint freestyle record, and this one got a push in 2021 as McKeon won Olympic gold in 51.96, becoming only the second woman ever under 52. But McKeon was not close to her best this year while Olympic silver medalist Siobhan Haughey missed the major meets of the summer with injuries, leaving Mollie O’Callaghan to post the top time of the year at 52.49. O’Callaghan, just 18, has plenty of room for growth in her swimming, but she is not on the doorstep of world-record territory yet.

8. 200 Backstroke — Regan Smith (2:03.35)

Smith became the first woman ever under 2:04 at the 2019 World Championships, but she has not come close to this level of speed since. Kaylee McKeown swam about a second off Smith’s record on a handful of occasions in 2021 but without cracking 2:04, and the Australian won the world title this year in 2:05.08 as she narrowly edged out Phoebe Bacon of the United States.

7. 400 IM — Katinka Hosszu (2:06.12)

Both of Hosszu’s individual medley records are well clear of any times recorded in recent years. In 2021, Yui Ohashi won Olympic gold in 2:08.52, more than two-and-a-half second shy of the world record. But perhaps the 200-meter record is the more vulnerable of the two, particularly after Alex Walsh won this year’s world title in 2:07.13. With another big jump, maybe Walsh could reach that level, but for now, it’s going to be really hard to bust down this record.

6. 50 Butterfly — Sarah Sjostrom (24.43)

The final Sjostrom world record on the list is the 50 fly, and now we have crossed into safe territory. Sjostrom broke this record in 2014, knocking six tenths off the previous world record of Therese Alshammar (25.07). In the eight years since, Sjostrom has captured four consecutive world titles in the event, and no one has joined her under 25, but she has not approached her best time. This one could last a while.

5. 100 Breaststroke — Lilly King (1:04.13)

King remains one of the best breaststrokers in the world, but she has never seriously challenged the world record she set in 2017. Back then, it appeared King and Yuliya Efimova were on the verge of a 1:03 performance, but the event has gone in the other direction. Last year, Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lydia Jacoby swam under 1:05 at the Olympics but still not within striking distance of the record, and with King swimming off her best form at this year’s Worlds and both Schoenmaker and Jacoby absent, the world-title-winning time was 1:05.93.


Katie Ledecky — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

4. 800 Freestyle — Katie Ledecky (8:04.79)

Ledecky’s world record sits almost nine seconds ahead of history’s No. 2 performer, Ariarne Titmus. Ledecky posted that mark of 8:04.79 at the 2016 Olympics, and while her world-title-winning time of 8:08.04 was the fifth-fastest effort in history and Ledecky’s fastest time in four years, it would be a surprise if she can get back to the transcendent form she showed in 2016, particularly with no serious challengers pushing her.

3. 1500 Freestyle — Katie Ledecky (15:20.48)

Here’s another Ledecky record that has not been approached in a long time. Ledecky won the world title this year in 15:30.15, almost 10 seconds off the world record, but she won the title by almost 15 seconds over American teenager Katie Grimes. Just like in the 800 free, Ledecky doesn’t need to challenge her world record to maintain her supremacy.

2. 400 IM — Katinka Hosszu (4:26.36)

Hosszu set this otherworldly mark at the 2016 Olympics as she obliterated the previous mark set by Ye Shiwen by two seconds, but Hosszu would never go under 4:29 again. In fact, no one even broke 4:30 between July 2017 and early this year, when Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh broke onto the scene. McIntosh posted a time of 4:29.01 in winning gold at the Commonwealth Games, and perhaps the teenager could eventually reach 4:26 territory but not anytime soon.

1. 200 Butterfly — Liu Zige (2:01.81)

This was the obvious candidate for the top spot on the list. Liu took 1.6 seconds off the existing world record in October 2009, months before the full-body polyurethane suits were banned, and no one has come close to matching that swim since. China’s Zhang Yufei won Olympic gold last year in 2:03.86, but that was still more than two seconds shy off the world record. This year, McIntosh swam an impressive mark of 2:05.20 to win the world title, but that’s not close to world-record territory. This one could last for another decade or more.

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1 year ago

No. 7 is the 200 IM not the 400 IM

Jimmy Tierney
Jimmy Tierney
1 year ago

#7 200 IM

1 year ago

No way King’s WR outlives Sjostrom’s 24.43

1 year ago

Hosszu’s 400 IM time, impressive though it is, does look increasingly within reach of McIntosh, who improved to 4.28.61 at the US Open Dec 22

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