It’s been more than 12 years since the high-tech polyurethane suits were banned from swimming. As of today, nive world records in individual events in long course meters from 2008 and 2009 still stand (two in women’s events, seven in men’s events).
Some of those world records seems unreachable by current swimmers, such as the women’s 200 butterfly and men’s 200 freestyle. However, there are exceptions, since we have seen many world records set since 2010.
Instagram’s Swimming Stats’ page has published the distribution world records in long course meters over the years since 2010 by gender in individual events.
Across this period, we have witnessed 69 world records in individual events, 28 in men’s events and 41 in women’s events.
This is interesting, since many people thought that, after the ban of the high-tech suits at the end of 2009, it would take many years until the swimmers could break those suits-aided records. In fact, 2010 saw no world records in long course meters. However, after that, many records have fallen. Maybe many people are unaware that so many world records have been set over the last few years. After all, almost 70 world records in individual events is certainly a significant number.
Katie Ledecky, with her 14 world records, has made a huge difference in the women’s side. But there is a multiple world record-setter on the men’s side as well, since Adam Peaty has set nine world records in breaststroke events.
In 2022, there have been only one world record set so far, done by American Hunter Armstrong in the men’s 50 backstroke.
The first two world records set in long course meters after 2009 came in 2011 in men’s events (Sun Yang in the 1500 free and Ryan Lochte in the 200 medley during the 2011 World Championships). But in the years that followed, we saw many more world records in women’s events than in men’s events. For six consecutive years (2012-2017), female swimmers set five or more world records in individual events in each year, way more than male swimmers.
Curiously, since 2018, there have been more world records in men’s events. In 2019 there were five world records set by male swimmers, more than in any other year since 2010.
Some people argue that, in the first years after the high-tech suits ban, we saw more world records in women’s events because female swimmers kept on wearing suits that cover most of the body. Of course, these suits are not made of polyurethane, but still have some level of compression, supporting and easing of movement. On the other hand, the male swimmers have been allowed to wear only leg short jammers, which represents a huge difference from the full body suit from 2009. From this point of view, in terms of suits, women’s suits have been closer to those 2009 suits than men’s have. By this argument, that’s why women supposed started to break many more records before men.
With the evolution of sport, by 2018 the men reached a level that they could challenge those world records set nine years ago. That’s when they started to break world records more frequently, even surpassing women’s figures by year.
Will this pattern continue in the next years? What are your thoughts on the difference on the number of men’s and women’s world records over the last 12 years?