United States Olympian Rebecca Soni only needed to be among the eight fastest swimmers in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke semifinals on Wednesday to qualify for Thursday’s final in the event. Soni decided not to wait to make her mark and qualified first in the semis with a world-record time of 2 minutes, 20.00 seconds.
World records have been falling at an incredible rate thus far in these Games, with five already set in only five days of competition. This rate of record-breaking performances is very reminiscent to that of the 2008 Games in Beijing, but is a stark contrast to all other major swimming competitions since the beginning of 2010.
Soni became the first swimmer at these Olympic Games to break a world record in a semifinal, and she has certainly set herself apart from the pack as the event’s gold-medal favorite Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta broke the men’s record in the 200 breast, with a time of 2:07.28. World records have also been set at these Games by United States’ Dana Vollmer in the women’s 100-meter butterfly (55.98), China’s Ye Shiwen in the women’s 400-meter individual medley (4:28.43) and South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh in the 100-meter breaststroke (58.46).
Out of the 32 swimming events contested in a pool at the Olympic Games (excluding the men’s and women’s 10-kilometer open-water swim), world records were broken in 21 of them at the Beijing Games. With world records being broken with such frequency on a daily basis, the once-heralded designation of being a world-record holder had lost its prestige, as they suddenly became expected rather than astonishing.
Everything changed, however, on Jan. 1, 2010, when a ban on full-body swimsuits went into effect. The high-tech swimwear was proven to make swimmers significantly faster than ever before, and with most of the elite swimmers using the bodysuits in Beijing, the technology led to the swimming record books being rewritten at an incredible frequency.
Considering how far record-breaking went during the bodysuit era, some swimming pundits believed that the world records set during their peak years would never be broken following the ban. For two-and-a-half years, it looked like the doubters would be correct.
Entering the 2012 Games, 30 of the 32 standing world records had been set in either 2008 or 2009, the peak years of swimmers using bodysuits. Only China’s Sun Yang, in the 1,500-meter freestyle, and U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, in the 200-meter individual medley, had broken through since the ban to set new world records.
The world-record drought, however, has quickly come to an end in London.
More than two-and-a-half years removed from the bodysuit ban, it appears that elite swimmers are finally learning to swim as fast without the bodysuits as they did with them. Add on the fact that this is the first Olympics, the most important championship in swimming, since the ban went into effect, and the stage was set for a revival of world-record-breaking performances.
With three days of competition remaining in the pool, chances are high that there will be even more world records set prior to the Games’ conclusion, but the sport has already made tremendous progress with the record-breaking run thus far in London.
The record-breaking times in Beijing seemed meaningless because of the sheer volume of their occurrence, but four years later, they signify great progress for the sport.
The records show that the sport has finally put the bodysuit era behind them, and over time, the technologically aided times will continue to be erased from the record books as swimmers continue to advance physically and become better than swimmers ever have been before.
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.