The 200m freestyle world record is ratified and monitored by FINA, the world governing body for aquatic sports, including competitive swimming. Some of the most popular names in the sport have competed at the 200 metre distance, including Australia’s Ian Thorpe, the Netherland’s Pieter van den Hoogenband, and of course, the greatest swimmer of all time, America’s Michael Phelps.
The following is an overview of the 200m freestyle world records for both genders, in both long course meters and short course meters:
MEN’S 200m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
On the men’s side the world mark was broken dozens of dozens of times by American swimmers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Don Schollander was the first man to break the first two minute barrier when he did so in a time of 1:58.8 in July of 1963. Schollander would break it another 8 times, until Mark Spitz, Tim Shaw and Bruce Furniss all took turns at the record, lowering it to 1:50.29 in Montreal at the Olympics in 1976.
A pair of Australians – Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, would duel with the Netherlands Pieter van den Hoogenband in the late 90’s and early 2000’s until Michael Phelps would take sole ownership over the long course world record in Melbourne at the 2007 FINA World Championships. He would lower it further to a then unbelievable 1:42.96.
As with the 50m and 100m freestyle world records, the current world marks were set during the 2008/2009 super-suit era, where suits made of polyurethane gave swimmers an added buoyancy and speed in the water. Most notable of these suits was the Arena X-Glide, and 100% polyurethane suit that was worn by the current world record holder in 200 in both short course and long course, Germany’s Paul Biedermann. Biedermann would establish the current fastest time in history with a mark of 1:42.00 set in Rome at the 2009 World Championships.
Here is a video of Biedermann’s swim in Rome, where he beat Phelps—
The short course world record is also held by Paul Biedermann, which he did months after the long course mark, and only weeks before FINA would finally implement a ban on the controversial polyurethane suits that had helped Biedermann achieve a near 4-second drop in less than a year in the event. Biedermann’s time of 1:39.37 was swum in his home country of Germany at the Berlin stop on the FINA World Cup Series in November 2009.
WOMEN’S 200m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
Dawn Fraser, one of Australia’s swimming legends helped lower the 200m long course world mark by nearly ten seconds in the late 1950’s. As with the men a group of Americans would come on the scene in the 1960’s and take turns demolishing the record, with names including Lillian Watson, Pam Kruse, Susan Pederson, Edith Wetzel, Debbie Meyer and Linda Gustavson all taking turns as holders of the record (some for literally as short as minutes as often the record was broken at the same competition by different swimmers as was the case at the US team’s 1968 Olympic Trials).
In Montreal at the ’76 Games East Germany’s Kornelia Ender would be the first woman to break the two minute barrier, but it would be Italian superstar Federica Pellegrini who would take the record to it’s current standing. From 2007 to 2009 Pellegrini lowered the record from 1:56.47 to its current 1:52.98, which was set (surprise, surprise) at the 2009 World Championships in Rome.
Here is a video of her dominating performance in Rome, where she destroys the field to win gold and set the record—
In short course meters Pellegrini also holds the fastest time ever, having posted a 1:51.17 at the 2009 European Short Course Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.