Last News

Evolution of the Women’s 50m Freestyle World Record

Sarah Sjöström is certainly the current dominant force in the women’s 50m freestyle and it will take a special performance to take that crown. But what did the evolution of the women’s 50m freestyle progression look like before the ‘Gold Bae’ era?


Romanian swimmer Tamara Costache, one of the original pioneers of the women’s 50m freestyle, lowered the world mark three times in 1986. In the same year, Costache became the first individual to hold the world record for the 50-meter freestyle according to FINA’s defined standard. At the 1986 FINA World Championships in Madrid, “the queen of sprint freestyle” won gold with a time of 25.28 seconds. During an interview following her world record accomplishment, the Romanian revealed her strong mentality: “The entire time I was practicing, I was thinking about breaking the world mark,” she stated. “I was confident in my ability to win, and I was not anxious.” Six years later, in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, China’s Wenyi Yang would become one of the “Five Golden Flowers” in the Chinese swimming circle by becoming the first woman in Olympic history to break the 25-second barrier in the 50-meter freestyle. Yang would win gold with a time of 24.79 seconds.

The record would be held by Yang for two years. At the seventh FINA World Championships held in Rome, Italy in 1994, Jingyi Le was one of the Chinese female swimmers who together won 12 of the 16 available championships. Le won the 50m freestyle with a time of 24.51 seconds, shaving 0.28 seconds off the 1992 Olympic record set by fellow Chinese swimmer Wenyi Yang. It was the tenth world record established at the tournament, and five of them were set by Chinese women.

Six years later, in the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, Inge de Bruijn, a swimming legend, competed. De Bruijn, the most successful athlete in Dutch sports history, would win gold with a time of 24.32 seconds in the final. With a time of 24.13 in the semi-finals, the Dutchwoman shaved more than 0.3 seconds off of the 50-meter freestyle record.

At the 13th FINA World Championships in Rome in 2009, German sprint freestyle specialist Britta Steffen would achieve a new record that would make her the fastest woman in history. Britta achieved a world record time of 23.73, a 50m freestyle record that would remain for eight years, despite a series of health problems, injuries, and training difficulties.

Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden was in top form in the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in 2017. Breaking Steffen’s record was going to need an extraordinary effort. Sjostrom, the only swimmer in the semi-final heats to finish under 24 seconds, swam a world-record-setting 50-meter freestyle time of 23.67 seconds by accelerating in the second half of the race. In Budapest, Sjostrom would swim a 23.69 in the 50m free final to win her third individual gold medal.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.