The men’s and women’s 1500m freestyle world records are ratified and kept by the world governing body for competitive swimming, FINA. For men the event has been recognized since 1908 in a long course pool, and for women the record is kept as far back as 1922, even though this event is only competed at the Olympics on the men’s side. The short course world records have been kept since 1991.
MENS 1,500m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
Hometown swimmer Henry Taylor set the first 1,500m WR on record in 1908 at the (original) London Olympics in a time of 22:48.4. In subsequent years numerous swimmers would take large swaths of time off of the records, with the next swimmer to lower it by 48 seconds at the next Olympics (George Hodgson of Canada).
In the 60’s and 70’s the race would be dominated by the Americans, including such legendary names as Tim Shaw, Michael Burton, John Kinsella, Rick DeMont, Steve Krause, and Roy Saari. The American domination would be broken up intermittently by Aussie’s Stephen Holland, Murray Rose and Roy Saari, giving a preview of the Aussie domination that would ensue in the 1990’s with two of the sport’s biggest superstars.
The last American to hold the world record in the mile would be Brian Goodell, who would come close to beating the vaunted mark of 15 minutes for the first time, clocking a 15:02.40 at the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. From there iVladimir Salnikov would take the baton, dipping under 15 at the boycotted-Moscow Games in 1980. He would lower the record down to 14:54.76 in 1983 before Jorg Hoffman, swimming under a freshly unified German flag, shaved another five seconds off Salnikov’s mark 8 years later at Worlds in Perth during January of 1991.
The following year, however, would mark the beginning of an Aussie domination of the event that would last for nearly 20 years. First it would be Kieren Perkins taking the record back down under, breaking the record three times, the final time at Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Columbia in August of 1994. His time of 14:41.66 would stand until Grant Hackett would swim a blistering 14:34.56 at the 2001 Worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.
Another ten years would pass before that mark would be beaten twice by Sun Yang of China, whose time of 14:31.02 swum at the recent London Games is the fastest in history.
Here is video of Yang’s swim in London in 2012—
In short course meters, both Perkins and Hackett are the only four record breakers on file, with Hackett’s 14:10.10 being the fastest mark recorded in a short course pool. That swim took place at the Australian Championships in Perth during August of 2001.
WOMEN’S 1,500m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
Although this event is not competed at the Olympics for women, it is held at the FINA World Championships which is now held every two years.
The women’s long course record has been held nearly exclusively by Americans and Australians in the nearly 100 years on record. The first was Helen Wainwright, who set the first mark of 25:06.6 back in August of 1922 at a pool in New York.
Since 1962 the record has been been held by numerous American swimmers including Carolyn House, Patty Caretto, Debbie Meyer, Cathy Calhoun, Jo Harshbarger, Alice Browne and Kim Linehan. On the Australian side swimming greats Jennifer Turrall, Tracey Wickham and Shane Gould all at one point broke it during the 1970’s.
In July of 1987 American distance legend Janet Evans would take it over, swimming a 16:00.73 before breaking the 16 minute barrier the following year in Orlando at Spring Nationals in a time of 15:52.10. That mark would stand for nearly twenty years, and it wasn’t until Kate Ziegler shaved an unreal ten seconds off the mark in 2007 that a new standard would be set.
Just this past summer Katie Ledecky of the USA lowered the mark further, placing the mark at its current 15:36.53 during the 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
Here is race footage of Ledecky’s record breaking swim—
The current short course world record was set even more recently by Mireia Belmonte of Spain at the Spanish Championships in Castellon, Spain on November 29, 2013.