Every year, it seems that swimmers are getting faster and faster. 

Records, both Olympic and world alike, fall each year between Olympics, FINA and other swimming championship events. Michael Phelps, considered the best swimmer of all time, set 39 records during his historic career. Retired since 2016, he now holds only four world records and four individual Olympic records. 

This year, a number of events at the Tokyo Olympics look like they could see new names take up the records. Sure, there are others that look like they’ll be staying right where they are, but even without Phelps, the U.S. has several men’s and women’s swimmers that should be in the mix to set best times in the 2021 Summer Games. 

MORE: Olympics swimming odds, gold favorites

Sporting News is taking a look at each event and whether there are Americans that can take home gold and set records, or if others on the international stage might be making history. 

Below is a breakdown of each individual race in the Olympics, including charts displaying the gold medal-winning times in each of the events 200 meters or shorter, explaining which swimmers, if any, have a shot at breaking an Olympic record this year. Times are listed in seconds in the charts. Tables with the full list of gold medal-winning times can be found at the bottom of the page. Entry times for the swimmers listed are based on the official 2021 Tokyo Swimming Entry List. 

Olympic swimming records

50 Freestyle

MEN: Brazil’s Cesar Cielo Filho has held the Olympic record in the 50 free since Beijing at 21.30, but it could be pushed to the limit this year. Caeleb Dressel, the United States’ best male swimmer since Phelps, holds the short course world record in the 50 at 20.24 seconds and a personal best long course record of 21.04, an American record. He already has two Olympic gold medals and 13 long course World Championship golds, and enters Tokyo as the heavy favorite in the event. 

WOMEN: Like in the men’s event, the women’s 50 free Olympic record of 24.05, set by Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo, has stood a while, having been set in 2012. There’s no clear favorite in this race, however, as several swimmers in the field all enter with success in this race. America’s best shot is Simone Manuel, the defending world champion in the event, who swam a 24.29 time in the Olympic trials, but Kromowidjojo will be in the field, as will 2016 Olympic champion Pernille Blume (Denmark) and tough Australian duo Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell. Not to mention, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom holds the world record in the long course 50 at 23.67, set in 2017, but she is coming back from a fractured elbow. 

100 Freestyle

MEN: Again, this will be an event in which to watch Dressel. The 24-year-old Florida native has a personal best long course time of 46.96 here, which would already be better than the Olympic record of 47.05 set by Eamon Sullivan in Beijing. Cielo holds the world record in this event as well, so a strong swim by Dressel could get him under that 46.91 mark. 

WOMEN: Manuel is an Olympic and world champion here, but did not reach the finals in the U.S. trials and did not qualify for this event. It is unlikely an American woman will win this event, but there could still be a record set here as Canada’s Penny Oleksiak will compete again after setting the mark at 52.70 in 2016, while world-record holder Sjostrom will compete in the event as well. McKeon and Campbell each have swam times this year under that Olympic record and could be dueling for the win. 

200 Freestyle

MEN: This is the first of four individual Olympic records Phelps still holds to this day, with his mark of 1:42.96 from Beijing setting the mark for the fastest time to go in this event. As things stand right now, that time looks relatively safe to stand for a bit. Among the entrants, Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys has the fastest time at 1:44.38 with five other swimmers also below 1:45.00. Kieran Smith from the United States is seen as a rising star in the Olympics, and he will be a name to watch, but Phelps’ record looks tough to top this year. 

WOMEN: It’s rarely a good idea to bet against Katie Ledecky, but she will not enter the 200 free as the favorite, and that’s because another swimmer happens to already be posting times below that of the Olympic record. Australia’s Ariarne Titmus qualified for the Olympics with a time of 1:53.09, coming in a few milliseconds below the record set in 2012 by American swimmer Allison Schmitt of 1:53.61. It’s also not far off from the world record of 1:52.98, which has stood since 2009 from Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, who will also be swimming in the race and has a faster entry time than Ledecky (1:54.22 to 1:54.4). Always keep an eye on Ledecky, but this feels like Titmus’ time to break the 12-year-old world record. 

400 Freestyle

MEN: The Olympic record here is 3:40.14, set by China’s Sun Yang in 2012, and that would be a challenging time for any swimmer here to hit. Smith is the United States’ fastest swimmer in the race with an entry time of 3:44.86, but that’s only tied for the eighth-fastest time in the field, with Australian 21-year-old Elijah Winnington leading the pack at 3:42.65. Three other swimmers are below 3:44, but this could be a tough record for any swimmer to hit. 

WOMEN: This will be a battle between Titmus and Ledecky. The latter holds the world record in the event at 3:56.46, but Titmus swam a 3:56.90 to qualify for the race and she beat the Stanford grad in the 2019 World Championships in the race. Ledecky’s entry time is 3:59.25, but she wasn’t pushed at the time trials like she will be at the Olympics. A record here seems likely to be set. The question will be which swimmer does it. 

800 Freestyle

MEN: This will be the first year the men swim the 800 free at the Olympics, so the winner will set the record. It does not look likely an American will take the gold here, however. Bobby Finke leads the U.S. field with a time of 7:47.58, but Italian world champion Gregorio Paltrinieri is coming in with an entry time of 7:39.27, the only swimmer below 7:41. 

WOMEN: No question here on who will win the race. Ledecky holds the world record at 8:04.79 and comes in with an entry time of 8:10.70. She didn’t have a huge time in the trials and could look like it might be close with Titmus, China’s Jianjiahe Wang and Italy’s Simona Quadarella, but she’s looking at winning this event for the third consecutive Olympics and is still the world’s most dominant swimmer in this event. Look for her to challenge her own record from 2016 here. 

1500 Freestyle

MEN: Yang, the Olympic-record holder in the 400 free, also has the fastest time in the 1500 of 14:31.02, but there are a few swimmers in this year’s field that could push for it. Paltrinieri’s entry time of 14:33.10 makes him the most likely to break the record with only Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk (14:37.63) and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock (14:36.45) coming in with times under 14:40. Finke leads the American field with a time of 14:46.06 and could make a move for the podium, but dropping more than 15 seconds in time would be a big ask. 

WOMEN: This will be the first year the event has been part of the women’s Olympics side, and it looks like it will be a runaway. Ledecky’s entry time of 15:29.51 is the best by more than 11 seconds. She has the 10 fastest times ever swum by a woman in this race. Needless to say, she will be the first to win this race and set the record for which future swimmers will need to set their sights. 

100 Backstroke

MEN: The world record here is within grasp for several swimmers, including its current holder. Ryan Murphy (United States) set the Olympic (and world) record at 51.85 at Rio in 2016, and will again enter the event as one of the favorites to win it with an entry time of 52.22 that is within a tenth of a second to the fastest entry time-holder in Russia’s Evgeny Rylov (52.12). Rylov’s fellow countryman, Kliment Kolesnikov, is right there with him at 52.13. Xu Jiayu has won the race twice at the World Championships, and he comes into the race with an entry time of 52.17. This is a close field and the winner could very easily set a new record. 

WOMEN: Regan Smith took down the world record in the 100 backstroke in the 2019 World Championships at 57.57, but Kaylee McKeown took it down with a time of 57.45 in the Australian trials. Along with Canada’s Kylie Masse, who has an entry time of 57.70, this should be a narrow finish for who gets the Olympic gold and the record, which currently sits at 58.23 set by Australian Emilly Seebohm in 2012. 

200 Backstroke

MEN: Murphy again represents the U.S.’s best shot at Olympic gold in another backstroke event, but here, he’s more of a longshot to win — let alone, set a record — in the 200 backstroke. Rylov has dominated the event with two world championship wins in it, and his entry time of 1:53.23 compared to Murphy’s 1:54.12 is a decent margin. The Olympic record was set by American Tyler Clary in 2012 at 1:53.41, and it could be passed this year by both Rylov and Murphy, but only the winner gets to claim the record. 

WOMEN: Smith still holds the world record in the 200 backstroke at 2:03.35 that she set in the 2019 World Championships, but she failed to qualify for the event at the U.S. trials. Americans Rhyan White (2:05.73) and Phoebe Bacon (2:06.46) should each make a strong push for medals, but Missy Franklin’s record of 2:04.06 could be a challenge for them to reach. McKeown, however, is the easy favorite in the event with an entry time of 2:04.28 — the only swimmer below 2:05 — and should be chasing Franklin’s mark. 

100 Breaststroke

MEN: Great Britain’s Adam Peaty holds the Olympic (57.13) and world record (56.88) in the 100 breaststroke, the latter marking his entry time that is nearly a second and a half ahead of the next-closest swimmer. Netherlands’ Arno Kammina and the U.S.’s Michael Andrew could be in for a fight for the remaining two medals, but Peaty has this one on lock. 

WOMEN: This is about as much a lock as you can find. U.S. swimmer Lilly King has dominated the 100 breaststroke in recent years, with an Olympic gold medal in 2016, that netted her the Olympic record at 1:04.93. She has since set the world record in the race at 1:04.13. Teammate Lydia Jacoby has the second fastest entry time at 1:05.28, but King’s 1:04.72 has her as a solid favorite to not only win, but likely set another record. 

200 Breaststroke

MEN: The Olympic record of 2:07.22, set by Ippei Watanabe (Japan) back in 2016, seems almost certain to fall this year. While U.S. swimmer Nic Fink (2:07.55) isn’t far off from that time, this is a very top heavy field that has five swimmers all coming in with entry times under 2:07. Russia’s Anton Chupkov (2:06.12) is the world record-holder in the race, and while he might be pushed for the gold, it’s likely the gold-medal winner of this won’t be American. 

WOMEN: The 100 breaststroke might have looked like King’s race, but the 200 is anyone’s guess. South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker has the fastest entry time of 2:20.17 with United States’ Annie Lazor right behind at 2:20.77, as well as Great Britain’s Holly Renshaw at 2:20.89. There’s three more swimmers all under 2:22 that could also jump in the mix. The Olympic record of 2:19.59, set by U.S. swimmer Rebecca Soni in 2012, could be in line to change hands this summer. 

100 Butterfly

MEN: Could this be another gold medal for Dressel? It’s shaping up that way. And there might be an Olympic record in there to boot. His entry time of 49.50 is the world record, coming in nearly a second under the Olympic record set by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling in 2016 at 50.39. Hungary’s Kristof Milak’s entry time of 50.18 would also be a record, but this should be a gold for Dressel. 

WOMEN: At just 18 years old, Torri Huske could give America another young gold medalist and an Olympic record in the same swim. Sjostrom holds the Olympic and world mark at 55.48, set in 2016, but Huske’s fastest time this year of 55.66 puts her well within reach of the record. China’s Yufei Zhang is the early leader with her entry time of 55.62 and Canada’s Margaret MacNeil (55.83) and McKeon (55.93) also have posted entry times below 56 seconds, while Sjostrom at 56.22 shouldn’t be counted out either. 

200 Butterfly

MEN: Milak might not win the 100 butterfly, but he expects to be the Olympic record-holder and gold-medal winner in the 200 butterfly. Phelps’ record of 1:52.03 from 2008 has been untouched for two summer games. The run seems all but certain to end here as the 21-year-old Milak holds the world record at 1:50.73 and now gets his first shot at Phelps’ Olympic mark. Zach Harting (1:55.06) could push to give the U.S. a medal with a strong swim, but this is Milak’s race all the way. 

WOMEN: Like in the 100, the 200 butterfly should see several swimmers all finishing within split-seconds of one another for the gold medal. Zhang paces the field with her entry of 2:05.44, but Flickinger (2:05.85) and Regan Smith (2:06.39) are right behind her, along with Hungarian duo Boglarka Kapas (2:06.50) and Katinka Hosszu (2:06.62). China’s Jiao Liuyang set the Olympic record at 2:04.06, which would require quite a drop in time from swimmers, but the tight field could push some swimmers to some impressive cuts. 

200 Individual Medley

MEN: Andrew pulled off a major win in the U.S. Trials with a time of 1:55.26 to earn the team’s top spot in the 200 individual medley, and his time puts him ahead of the rest of the field, with Japan’s Daiya Seto next at 1:55.55 and Australia’s Mitch Larkin right behind at 1:55.72. Phelps’ 2008 gold time of 1:54.23 is still the Olympic record here, but Andrew could make a push for that if he’s able to drop some time. 

WOMEN: This could be anyone’s race. Hosszu holds the world record at 2:06.12, but her entry time of 2:07.02 puts her close to the field, with McKeown at 2:08.19, Canada’s Syndey Pickrem at 2:08.61, Japan’s Yui Ohashi at 2:08.80 and United States’ Alex Walsh at 2:08.87. The Olympic record of 2:07.57 could certainly be in jeopardy with so many swimmers just a second away from it, but if Hosszu is swimming at her best, she would likely have the best shot at that mark. 

400 Individual Medley

MEN: Phelps’ record in the 400 IM seems a bit more out of reach than his 200 IM Olympic record. The time to beat for swimmers this year is 4:03.84, which is also the world record. Seto leads the field with an entry time of 4:07.95, and two American swimmers are right behind him with Chase Kalisz (4:09.09) and Jay Litherland (4:09.22) both fighting for that top spot, but a drop down to Phelps’ 2008 mark would require everything to go perfect. 

WOMEN: Hosszu is coming into this race already with the Olympic and world record at 4:26.36, and even though her entry time has her four seconds back of that time (4:30.39), it also has her nearly three seconds ahead of the next-closest swimmer (Ohashi at 4:32.33). Hosszu hasn’t posted her fastest times this year as her time of 4:34.76 at last month’s European Championships is behind both U.S. swimmers — Emma Weyant (4:33.81) and Flickinger (4:33.96) — which could leave the door open for an upset. But Hosszu is the only swimmer with a shot at breaking the record. 

4×100 Freestyle Relay

MEN: The world record of 3:08.24, set by the U.S. in 2008, came in perhaps the greatest comeback of all time when Jason Lezak swam an anchor time of 46.06. That unit was loaded, and even with a talented American roster back in the water for the race in 2021, that time could be tough to beat. Also tough to beat will be Russia, who boasts three swimmers in the relay with entry times in the top six. Dressel, Zach Apple, Blake Pieroni and Brooks Curry could give Russia a run at gold and have a real shot at winning, but that record could be a long shot. 

WOMEN: This is Australia’s race. Australia holds both the Olympic record (3:33.15, 2012) and the world record (3:30.05, 2018) and boast three swimmers in the top four entry times. Meg Harris, the team’s No. 4 swimmer, has a faster 100 freestyle time than the United States’ top qualifer in the event as an individual.

4×200 Freestyle Relay

MEN: The U.S. also holds the Olympic record from 2008 at 6:58.56, but this unit will have a harder time winning gold than the 4×100 relay. Great Britain’s duo of Duncan Scott and Tom Dean might be the best pairing in the event, and Russia and Australia each pepper in swimmers throughout the top entry times. The U.S.’s Kieran Smith, Townley Haas, Drew Kibler and Andrew Seliskar have a lot of potential and could make it a four-team race, but that record might be tough to take down. 

WOMEN: The United States currently holds this record from 2012 with a time of 7:42.92, and both the Americans and Australians could make this a fight for a record-finish in 2021. First-time Olympians Paige Madden and Katie McLaughlin have been posting fast times to accompany Ledecky and Allison Schmitt in this talented unit. However, Australia, led by Titmus and Emma McKeon, set the world record in 2019 at 7:41.50 and could be a force poised to add an Olympic record — and new world record — to their list of accomplishments. 

4×100 Medley Relay

MEN: The U.S. is in the enviable position of having the 100 backstroke world record-holder in Murphy, the 100 butterfly world record-holder — and one of the best 100 free swimmers in the world — in Dressel, an emerging breaststroke talent in Andrew and the option to have either Apple swim 100 freestyle or Tom Shields swim the 100 butterfly. This is the reigning Olympic gold-winning team, and even without Phelps, this team looks like the favorite to win here. The Olympic record of 3:27.95 could be a tough time to reach, but this unit has the potential to get there. 

WOMEN: As is the case for much of the women’s side of the Olympics this year, it looks like it will be the United States vs. Australia. The winner gets gold, and would appear to be poised to set a new Olympic record. The mark of 3:52.05, set by the U.S. in London in 2012, is well within reach for both these teams. The units haven’t been announced yet, but with Smith, King, Huske, Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil all as options to swim here, they should have no problem posting times that would put the unit below 3:52. Australia figures to send out a group of McKeown, Chelsea Hodges, McKeon and Campbell that should also come in below that mark and make this a race to the final leg of the relay. 

Men’s Gold-Medal Winning Times

Women’s Gold-Medal Winning Times

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