World Championships: Pan Zhanle World Record Reflects Sprint Resurgence

Pan Zhanle
Photo Courtesy: Hiroyuki Nakamura/World Aquatics

World Championships: Pan Zhanle World Record Reflects Sprint Resurgence

David Popovici’s race to dislodge the 13-year-old world record in the 100 freestyle in 2022 was a race against time. It was also, in retrospect, a race against a blossoming cohort of sprinters, to get to the record first.

Cesar Cielo’s world record in the 100 freestyle of 46.91 seconds lasted more than 13 years, from 2009’s super-suited summer to 2022, through numerous close calls. Popovici’s record lasted barely 13 months, from Aug. 13, 2022 to Sunday, when Pan Zhanle of China erased it. Consider it the luck finally turning for aspirants to the sub-47 club.

Pan led off China’s 400 free relay in 46.80 seconds, leading them to gold at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha. It clips .06 off the swim that Popovici put together at the European Championships in 2022.

A look at the splits of the three records:

  • Cielo, 2009         (rt 0.66) 22.17 – 24.74 — 46.91
  • Popovici, 2022   (rt 0.65) 22.74 – 24.12 — 46.86
  • Pan, 2024           (rt 0.62) 22.26 – 24.54 — 46.80

Pan has been creeping up on this record. He went 46.97 at the Asian Games in September to set the continental mark. The was a big cut from the 47.43 he set as the Asian record at the World Championships in Fukuoka last summer, finishing fourth, just .01 off the medals.

“Breaking the world record is an honour for me,” Pan said. “This is a motivation for both young and old swimmers. I believe I can go faster than today’s time. Breaking the world record just came naturally and now my goal is to swim even faster.”

Pan is part of a young generation of freestylers ready to take over. The world title in 2023 was won by an old hand in Kyle Chalmers. But American Jack Alexy took silver. He’s just 21, as is Matt Richards of Great Britain and Jordan Crooks of the Cayman Islands, both finalists. (Chalmers, Alexy and Crooks are all absent from Doha.) Pan will turn 20 during the Paris Olympics. Popovici will get there six weeks later. Hwang Sun-Woo of South Korea, though more of a 200 specialist but a 100 free finalist contender, is also 20.

Pan is entered in the 100 free with a seed time of 47.60, which makes him the third seed. Richards is the top seed at 47.45, followed by Alessandro Miressi. Prelims in that event start Wednesday.

Pan is the first Chinese man to hold the world record in the event. He’s just the fourth Chinese man to set a world record in long course, joining Qin Haiyang last year in the 200 breaststroke, Zhang Lin in the 800 free in 2009 and Sun Yang (twice, with a considerable asterisk) in the 1,500 free.

Popovici isn’t in Doha to challenge Pan head-to-head. The Romanian suffered a disappointing 2023 by his standards, perhaps thanks to all the racing in 2022 catching up to him. He’s focused instead on repairing the training deficit ahead of a home continent Olympics in Paris this summer. As the owner of the textile-best time in the 200 free he’ll have his eyes on Paul Biedermann’s world record in that event, the German’s mark getting more hallowed by the day.

But Pan has established himself as the new favorite in the field. He’s made it conceivable to think that a time under 47 will be required even to medal in Paris. And he’s cemented a place in a generation that will be remembered for pushing the sprint game forward after a long record-board interregnum.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
22 days ago

Pan is not seeded with a ‘46.70’!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x