400 meter Sprinting vs. 100 meter Freestyle Swim

I am currently in Rome where the 2009 FINA World Championships are held.  There’s quite a buzz in the city with the electric atmosphere of a Championship meet.

Plus, it’s over 35C or over 90F during the day with humidity.  And those temperatures are in the shade!

Between 1968 and 2004, only 7 men have run under the magic 44 seconds barrier for the 400 meters (and two of them were set in altitude!). Since then, two new stars, namely Jeremy Warnier and Lashawn Merritt were added to that exclusive list. That makes a total of NINE since 1968.

The 100m freestyle swimming record first went under 48 seconds in 2000. For the next eight years, 48 seconds was the magical “barrier” which only one man could break.

And then came the suits.

Remember Peter van den Hoogenband of Holland? His 100 m world record stood until March 21, 2008 and was broken by France’s Alain Bernard’s 47.60 performance.

The current World record for the 100 meter freestyle was Eamon Sullivan of Australia with a 47.05 from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Until last week.

You knew there was magic in the air when Cesar Cielo Filho swam 47.09 in the heats.  He finally broke the 47 second barrier with his 46.91 world record.

The way it’s going, the 100 meter freestyle swim will be faster than the 400 meter sprints on the track!

Also, check out the “slow” reaction times compared to track athletes!

Legend: Place, Lane, Athlete, Country, Reaction Time, 50 meter split and place, Final time

1 5 CIELO FILHO Cesar BRA 0.66 (2) 22.17 46.91 WR
2 4 BERNARD Alain FRA 0.71 (3) 22.22 47.12
3 8 BOUSQUET Frederick FRA 0.73 (1) 22.14 47.25
4 2 HAYDEN Brent CAN 0.74 (5) 22.43 47.27
5 7 WALTERS David USA 0.74 (7) 22.78 47.33
6 3 NYSTRAND Stefan SWE 0.70 (4) 22.25 47.37
7 1 FERNS Lyndon RSA 0.67 (6) 22.53 47.94
8 6 OLIVEIRA Nicolas BRA 0.66 (8) 22.92 48.01

Here is the video from YouTube from a different perspective:


  • Interesting comparison. Though unlikely in our lifetime, you might not be too far from the truth in stating,

    “The way it’s going, the 100 meter freestyle swim will be faster than the 400 meter sprints on the track!”

    Based on what I see at most pre-dawn sessions at Santa Monica College the participation in track is well below that of swimming. We have a world class swimming facility right next to our world class track with its excellent pro turf covering the field. The weather here is great 98% of time year round with the temps between 60-70 F. It rains almost never. Ideal conditions for track athletes to train in. The track is free for public use practically every day.

    Yet, the runners are far out-numbered by the swimmers by a good 10-1 margin daily. And having watched some of the swimming practices and drills, one can only admire their workouts. 50 meters away where the track begins, there are usually only a handful of sprinters and ‘maybe’ 1 or 2 coaches. Looking back over next door to the pool there are over 50-100 swimmers in the pool at any given moment with a supporting staff of a dozen or so.

    I haven’t drawn any conclusions but I wonder why the enthusiasm for track doesn’t seem to be there as much for this emerging generation. As far as the field events go, it’s a miracle to see anyone practicing daily.

    P.S.
    About your article on “Rabbits.”

    At what distance can rabbits start being effective and at what distance do they stop being effective. i.e. Are there rabbits for 800m events? Are there marathon rabbits?

  • @Fred – Track and Field is losing its appeal to the mass market. It’s no longer “sexy”. We are losing our athletes to Soccer and Football and other sports. Even swimming as you pointed out.

    Funny, it wasn’t long ago when the NFL and NBA were in the dumpsters, and the MLB was THE sport to watch. Marketing has immensely helped the NFL and NBA.

    Yes, there are rabbits for distances 800m to Marathons. I used to rabbit the 800m by running up to 500m as a workout.

  • Since records are being smashed it seems every competition, we will reach a point that these athletes will perform on a super human level.

  • I think the reaction times for swimmers seem to be much slower than track athletes because, in swimming, the time measured is total block clearance – that is, when both feet actually leave the blocks. In track, as I understand it, the “reaction time” is just when sufficient pressure is put on the blocks by the feet as the runner pushes off.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong here.

  • Mike for both sports, swimming and track, times are measure from the inital beep from the starter. It is up to the athlete to get off the blocks as they can *after* the initial beep. Any movement before is considered a false start.

  • I’ve noticed the similarities in some of the distances between swimming and track and being a triathlete, I’ve found them pretty comparable when performed myself. 50 meter swim vs. 200 meter run especially. Since all triathlons are endurance events I’ve created a new sport called triple sprint. 50 meter swim, 300 meter bike, and 150 meter run, all held on the same day, but separately so the clock stops between events. The idea is to be able to complete all three events (500 meters of total sprinting) in under one minute (60 seconds). I put together a test event and it was a lot of fun. If you want to see the video or learn more check out my website http://www.triplesprint.com I’m not selling anything I just want to know what you fellow sprinters think of this concept. Thanks!

    • @Coach Getty – I used to do the 500m Concept II Rowing machine, which is like a 600m on the track. About 1 min 20 seconds of pure hell.

  • “Reaction time” – Mike, you are correct. The time quoted for track events is the time from the ‘gun’ to the initial pressure on the blocks. The time quoted for swimming is the time from the ‘gun’ to the release of pressure as the swimmer leaves the block.
    Although technically neither are actually reaction times, they are both reaction + movement time… AKA response times.