The 4x100m freestyle world records for men and women have been tracked and ratified by FINA, the world governing body for the sport of competitive swimming since 1908.
While the men’s event has been held since the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, prior to that only the 4×200 freestyle was held for the men. On the women’s side the event was first held at the Olympics in 1912.
The 4x100m freestyle world record in short course meters has been ratified since 1991.
MEN’S 4x100m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
As mentioned above, the record has been recognised since 1908, but the first swim on record wasn’t until 1937, when Hungary put together a team that swam 4:10.2.
A group of Americans including Takashi Hirose, Otto Jaretz, Paul Wolf and Peter Fick would be the first to break the 4 minute barrier in 1938, swum at the Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The record has largely been American-held since then, with quick interruptions by the Japanese, Australians, and the French in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
After that it is straight American domination until the year 2000. American legends like Don Schollander, Mark Spitz, Rowdy Gaines, Matt Biondi, Tom Jager, and Gary Hall Jr. all respectively swam for American teams that pushed the record into the low three minutes territory.
At the Sydney Games in 2000 the Americans would lose the race for the first time at the Olympic level, and also the world record, when Michael Klim (setting a world record in the 100m freestyle on the lead off leg), Chris Fydler, Ashley Callus and Ian Thorpe would win gold. Four years later it would be the South Africans’ turn, with legendary sprinter Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling again displacing the Americans and besting the Aussies mark in a time of 3:13.17.
After that the Americans would retake the record under the stewardship of Michael Phelps, who was just coming into his own as a sprint freestyler in 2006 at the Pan Pacs in Victoria (3:12.46).
The current world record was set at the Beijing Olympics, in what has to be one of the great swimming moments of all time, when Jason Lezak came back from a seemingly insurmountable lead against a heavily-favoured French team that featured then world record holder in the 100m freestyle Alain Bernard. Lezak, along with Phelps, Cullen Jones, and Garrett Weber-Gale would post a time of 3:08.24, nearly four seconds faster than the previous mark set that morning by their B-squad.
The short course world record was set the following year (2009) in Manchester, Great Britain, when Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers, Garrett Weber-Gale and Phelps would swim a 3:03.30.
WOMEN’S 4x100m FREESTYLE WORLD RECORDS
The American domination on the women’s side is not as thorough as with the men. The first world mark was set in 1912 by a group of ladies from Great Britain, when they posted a 5:52.8 in Stockholm, Sweden.
For the next twenty years the Americans would take over, with 5 different groups of women lowering the WR by nearly a minute and a half, with the last in that stretch a 4:38.0 swim in 1932 in Los Angeles by Josephine McKim, Helen Johns, Eleanor Garatti and Helene Madison.
In the 1950’s a group of Aussies led by the legendary Dawn Fraser would break the record 4 times in a span of four years, bringing the WR ever closer to the 4 minute mark. In the 1960’s it would again be the Americans, mainly based out of the Santa Clara Swim Club in Santa Clara, California who would get the mark down to 4:01.1.
Finally, in 1972, at a competition in Knoxville, Tennessee, Kim Peyton, Sandy Neilson, Jane Barkman and Shirley Babashoff would break the 4 minute milestone for the first time swimming a 3:58.11. A group of East German women would tie that record 12 days later in Munich, and over the course of the next 20 years the record would bounce back and forth between the GDR and USA.
On the East German big names like Kornelia Ender, Heikie Friedrich and Kristin Otto, for the Americans names like Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson, Tracy Caulkins, and Shirley Babashoff.
The current world record is held by a team from the Netherlands. The mark stands at 3:31.72, which was swum at the FINA World Championships in Rome during the supersuit summer of 2009.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics the Australian women including world record holder in the 100m freestyle Cate Campbell demolished the world record in this event, swimming a 3.30.65.
The short course world record for the 4x100m freestyle for women is currently held by the Netherlands as well. The time of 3:28.33 was swum on home-turf in Amsterdam on December 19, 2008, and features three of the same women.