How Tall Do You Have to Be to Hold the 100m Freestyle World Record?

Much is made about elite swimmers and their apparent genetics. Watch the network coverage of any major championship meet, most notably the Olympics, and you are treated to a parade of vignettes that show swimmers to be freaks of nature, with their above average wingspan, massive feet, and webbed fingers.

While physical gifts certainly do play a role in swimming success, just how much does height play a factor?

SEE ALSO: 100m Freestyle World Record

Below are a list of the past 10 individual world record holders in the men’s 100m freestyle, going as far back as the summer of 1976, when the USA’s Jim Montgomery became the first man to break the 50 second mark in the event, as well as their heights:

NAME HEIGHT World Record
Cesar Cielo 6’5 (1.95m) 46.91
Alain Bernard 6’5 (1.95m) 46.94
Eamon Sullivan 6’2 (1.89m) 47.05
Pieter van den Hoogenband 6’4 (1.93m) 47.84
Michael Klim 6’3 (1.91m) 48.18
Alexander Popov 6’6 (1.97m) 48.21
Matt Biondi 6’7 (2.01m) 48.42
Rowdy Gaines 6’1 (1.85m) 49.36
Jonty Skinner 6’5 (1.95m) 49.44
Jim Montgomery 6’3 (1.91m) 49.99
Average 6’4 (1.93m)


On average to be a world record holder in this event you will need to approximately 6’4 inches, and either born in the USA or Australia. However, height is not a predominant indicator of success in this event, as Cameron McEvoy of Australia can attest to. Several months into 2014 he has the fastest time in the world in this event with a 47.65, and he stands “only” 6’1. His countryman, James Magnussen, who has been pegged as the guy to break Cielo’s 2009 mark, stands at 6 feet 6 inches.

On the women’s side we looked as far back as 1972. The results aren’t entirely fair, as the multiple entries by members of East Germany skew the results with their tainted swims. Ender in particular broke the world record ten consecutive times over a 4 year period from 1972-1976. (Yes, ten times. Ridiculous.)

Jingy Le’s swim should also come with an asterisk, as it was set during the early 1990’s when the Chinese women’s allegedly non-state sanctioned doping was running rampant.

NAME HEIGHT World Record
Britta Steffen (GER) 5’11 (1.80m) 52.07
Lisbeth Trickett (AUS) 5’7 (1.67m) 52.88
Jodie Henry (AUS) 5’9 (1.76m) 53.52
Inge de Bruijn (NED) 5’10 (1.78m) 53.80
Jingy Le (CHN) 5’10 (1.78m) 54.01
Jenny Thompson (USA) 5’10 (1.78m) 54.48
Kristin Otto (GDR) 6’1 (1.85m) 54.73
Barbara Krause (GDR) 5’11 (1.80m) 54.98
Kornelia Ender (GDR) 5’7 (1.72m) 55.73
Shane Gould (AUS) 5’7 (1.71m) 58.5
Average 5’9 (1.76m)


Current world leader Cate Campbell of Australia stands at 6’1, which is well above the average of 5’9 of the past ten world record holders. Her textile best of 52.33 was posted last year at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona. Campbell has raced under the 53 second mark 7 times now, and it seems like it is only a matter of time before she cracks Steffen’s mark that was done during the supersuit era of 2009.

Get Daily Tips on How to Swim Faster

Subscribe to the newsletter and get tips and advice on how to swim faster every weekday morning, straight to your inbox. 

Join 33,000+ swimmers, coaches, and swim parents learning what it takes to swim like a boss.

Unsubscribe anytime. Email will never be shared or sold.

Olivier Poirier-Leroy Olivier Poirier-Leroy is the founder of He is an author, former national level swimmer, two-time Olympic Trials qualifier, and swim coach.

Related Articles

Jason Lezak and the Greatest Relay Leg of All Time

Jason Lezak and the Greatest Relay Leg of All-Time

For Jason Lezak and the Americans the story-line couldn’t have been more perfect. That summer in Beijing, on the first night of swimming events at the Water Cube it was shaping up to be an old fashioned battle royale between the sport’s biggest heavyweights. The French, led by Alain Bernard,

Read More »
Random Awesome

5 Things Every Swimmer Fears

Forget spiders, the dark, or tiny spaces. (Although there is certainly room for those as well…) Swimmers experience their own set of fears, resulting from competitive anxiety, unclean pools (read: other swimmers) and forgetting to knot up the drawstrings. The fact is that these five things are all things that

Read More »
george haines santa clara swim club
Swimming History

How Did Swimmers Prepare for Meets in the 1960’s?

Now this is cool. In this video that was posted originally on the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s YouTube channel, we get a behind the scenes look at the Santa Clara Swim Club, along with George Haines, as they prepare for a championship meet. The video was produced in 1967,

Read More »