It is always exciting when someone breaks a record. World swimming records are set during an official event, and an Olympic record is set during the Olympic Games. The record-setting swim must be witnessed and officiated at a FINA-approved venue, so your backyard pool does not count. If a time beats the world record at the Olympics, then it is the record for both. Most of the time world records are faster than Olympic records. There are records for the different swimming events (based on swimming stroke and distance) and for men and women.

According to FINA, as of July 2011, these are the World and Olympic records for the major swimming events:

Men:

  • 50m Freestyle: 20.91 – World; 21.30 – Olympic; both held by Cesar Cielo Fihlo, BRA
  • 100m Freestyle: 46.91 – World (Cesar Cielo Filho, BRA); 47.05 – Olympic (Eamon Sullivan, AUS)
  • 200m Freestyle: 1:42.00 – World (Paul Biedermann, GER); 1:42.96 – Olympic (Michael Phelps, USA)
  • 400m Freestyle: 3:40.07 – World (Paul Biedermann, GER); 3:40.59 – Olympic (Ian Thorpe, AUS)
  • 1500m Freestyle: 14:34.14 – World (Sun Yang, CHN); 14:38.92 – Olympic (Grant Hackett, AUS)
  • 100m Backstroke: 51.94 – World; 52.54 – Olympic; both held by Aaron Peirsol, USA
  • 200m Backstroke: 1:51.92 – World (Aaron Peirsol, USA); 1:53.94 – Olympic (Ryan Lochte, USA)
  • 100m Breaststroke: 58.58 – World (Brenton Rickard, AUS); 58.91 – Olympic (Kosuke Kitajima, JPN)
  • 200m Breaststroke: 2:07.31 – World (Christian Sprenger, AUS); 2:07.64 – Kosuke Kitajima, JPN)
  • 100m Butterfly: 49.82 – World; 50.58 – Olympic; both held by Michael Phelps, USA
  • 200m Butterfly: 1:51.51 – World; 1:52.03 – Olympic; both held by Michael Phelps, USA
  • 200m Individual Medley: 1:54.00 – World (Ryan Lochte, USA); 1:54.23 – Olympic (Michael Phelps, USA)
  • 400m Individual Medley: 4:03.84 – World and Olympic record held by Michael Phelps, USA
  • 4x100m Freestyle Relay: 3:08.24 – World and Olympic record held by Team USA (Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, and Jason Lezak)
  • 4x200m Freestyle Relay: 6:58.55 – World (Michael Phelps, Ricky Berens, David Walters, and Ryan Lochte, USA); 6:58.56 – Olympic (Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, and Peter Vanderkaay, USA)
  • 4x100m Medley Relay: 3:27.28 – World (Aaron Peirsol, Eric Shanteau, Michael Phelps, and David Walters, USA); 3:29.34 – Olympic (Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Michael Phelps, and Jason Lezak, USA)

Women:

  • 50m Freestyle: 23.73 – World; 24.06 – Olympic; both held by Britta Steffen, GER
  • 100m Freestyle: 52.07 – World; 53.12 – Olympic; both held by Britta Steffen, GER
  • 200m Freestyle: 1:52.98 – World; 1:54.82 – Olympic; both held by Federica Pellegrini, ITA
  • 400m Freestyle: 3:59.15 – World; 4:02.19 – Olympic; both held by Federica Pellegrini, ITA
  • 800m Freestyle: 8:14.10 – World and Olympic records held by Rebecca Adlington, GBR
  • 100m Backstroke: 58.12 – World (Gemma Spofforth, GBR); 58.77 – Olympic (Kirsty Coventry, ZIM)
  • 200m Backstroke: 2:04.81 – World; 2:05.24 – Olympic; both held by Kirsty Coventry, ZIM
  • 100m Breaststroke: 1:04.45 – World (Jessica Hardy, USA); 1:05.17 – Olympic (Leisel Jones, AUS)
  • 200m Breaststroke: 2:20.12 – World (Annamay Pierse, CAN); 2:20.22 – Olympic (Rebecca Soni, USA)
  • 100m Butterfly: 56.06 – World (Sarah Sjostrom, SWE); 56.61 – Olympic (Inge De Bruun, NED)
  • 200m Butterfly: 2:01.81 – World; 2:04.18 – Olympic; both held by Zige Liu, CHN
  • 200m Individual Medley: 2:06.15 – World (Ariana Kukors, USA); 2:08.45 – Olympic (Stephanie Rice, AUS)
  • 400m Individual Medley: 4:29.45 – World and Olympic records held by Stephanie Rice, AUS
  • 4x100m Freestyle Relay: 3:31.72 – World; 3:33.76 – Olympic; both held by Team NED (Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk, and Marleen Veldhuis)
  • 4x200m Freestyle Relay: 7:42.08 – World (Yu Yang, Qian Wei Zhu, Jing Liu, and Jiaying Pang, CHN); 7:44.31 – Olympic (Stephanie Rice, Bronte Barratt, Kylie Palmer, and Linda Mackenzie, AUS)
  • 4x100m Medley Relay: 3:52.19 – World (Jing Zhao, Huijia Chen, Liuyang Jiao, Zhesi Li, CHN); 3:52.69 – Olympic (Emily Seebohm, Leisel Jones, Jessicah Schipper, Lisbeth Trickett, AUS)