Analysis: Men's 100m Freestyle
Craig Lord
The all-time top 15 - every single one clocked since February this year (more than unusual); 60 of the all-time 100 best efforts have been clocked since February, 2008

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Alain Bernard (FRA) 47.21
  • 2. Eamon Sullivan (AUS) 47.32
  • 3. Jason Lezak (USA) 47.67
  • Fastest field: Beijing 2008: 47.21 - 48.33, final (semi-final top 8: 47.05wr - 48.07)

Comparison fields (finals):

  • Melbourne 2007: 48.43 - 48.81
  • Athens 2004: 48.17 - 49.30

To qualify for the final it took: 

  • 48.07 Beijing 2008
  • 48.87 Melbourne 2007
  • 49.21 Athens 2004

Facts going into the race:

  • WR: 47.50 - Alain Bernard (FRA), Eindhoven, Netherlands, 22.3.08
  • 2004 Olympic champion: Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) 48.17
  • 2007 World champion: Filippo Magnini (ITA), Brent Hayden (CAN) =48.43

Impact of morning finals:

Morning finals were less relevant than the need to raced so hard to get through to the final. Only two of the finalists managed to swim faster when racing for medals - and that was decisive: Jason Lezak (USA) and Cesar Cielo (BRA) stepped up and shared bronze. 

Notes from the race:

After the 47.20 of Alain Bernard (FRA) and the 47.05 stunner of a world record in the semis, the final might have been expected to be a tad slower. It was - and that made all the difference to the result. Bernard swam 22.48 and 24.72 in semis and backed up with a repeat performance of 22.53 and 24.68 for a 47.21 victory by 0.11sec over Sullivan, who went out in almost identical fashion in semi and final - 22.44 and 22.48 respectively. It was the tension of the race, that ability not to tighten when the chips are down that sealed the Australian's fate: in the semi, with no-one battling across the lane rope, Sullivan came home in 24.61. In the final, the split was 24.84, and the difference, as far as they naked eye can see, appeared to come only in the closing 10m, when the free-flow surf of a stroke that sealed a world record deserted the holder. Bernard's explosive raw power is the new face of sprinting in a victory of the heavyweight over the slight, light surfer - at least in round one. Lezak (USA), after that rocket-man 46.06 in the relay, backed with a 22.86 and 47.67 effort, while the shared bronze of Cielo (BRA) came off a 22.47 split. In fifth was the defending champion. The triple crown dream had gone. Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) did his best to survive in a changed world and almost reached the podium again, falling just 0.08sec shy. At 50m, on  23.25, he was last over. He came home in the fastest second 50m of the final: 24.50, for a 47.75 effort - faster than his wins in 2000 and 2004. Hail Pieter the Great - what a fabulous career for the only man in history to race in four Olympic 100m freestyle finals. And note this: his fifth-place finish in 47.75 was his fastest effort of his Olympic career, better than when he blasted through the 48sec barrier back in 2000. He wore the LZR. It helped him defy the years, at least just a touch. The race had a massive impact on the all-time world rankings.  No fewer than eight of the fastest 10 times ever recorded stem from the 2008 Olympic Games.

The impact of suit technology is at its most brutal in this race:

  • The all-time top 15 - every single one clocked since February this year (more than unusual); 60 of the all-time 100 best efforts have been clocked since February, 2008 (way more than unusual, the history of world rankings compiled by Nick Thierry proves. No questions. No doubts. Full stop). 

Compare the stats to the past four Olympic year impacts (2008: 60/100):

  • in 2004, 31 times made the all-time top 100;
  • in 2000, the dawn of the first tight bodysuits (as opposed to the swish little numbers from 1908 etc), it was 40;
  • in 1996, 23;
  • in 1992, 23. Most in the top 15 in all those years: 5, as opposed to all 15 in 2008.

Impact on all-time top 10 

  • 47.05 Sullivan, Eamon AUS BEIJING S
  • 47.20 Bernard, Alain FRA BEIJING S
  • 47.51 Phelps, Michael USA BEIJING R
  • 47.56 Hayden, Brent CAN BEIJING R
  • 47.58 Lezak, Jason USA 
  • 47.67 Cielo, Cesar A. BRA BEIJING F
  • 47.68 vdHoogenband, Pieter NED BEIJING S
  • 47.76 Leveaux, Amaury FRA BEIJING R
  • 47.78 Weber-Gale, Garrett USA 
  • 47.83 Nystrand, Stefan SWE BEIJING H

All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 47.84 Van den Hoogenband (NED) 2000
  • 47.91 Nystrand (SWE) 2007
  • 48.12 Bernard (FRA) 2007
  • 48.12 Magnini (ITA) 2005
  • 48.17 Lezak (USA) 2004
  • 48.17 Schoeman (RSA) 2004
  • 48.18 Klim (AUS) 2000
  • 48.21 Popov (RUS) 1994
  • 48.33 Ervin (USA) 2001
  • 48.34 Neethling (RSA) 2005 


Alain Bernard became the first French winner of the 100m in Beijing, 2008. Defending champion Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) had a crack at becoming the first man to win the same crown in the same event at three Games and fell 0.54sec shy. He became the fist man to make four finals in the 100m free. Of the 26 finals contested since 1896, the USA has won 13, the last of which was Matti Biondi's 1988 victory. Hungary and Australia tie on three titles each. The USA has had two clean sweeps, (1920, 24) and Australia one (1956) in the days when three per nation were allowed. The title has been retained five times: Daniels (06, 08); Kahanamoku (12,20); Weissmuller (24, 28); Popov (92, 96, along with wins over 50m at both Games) and Van den Hoogengand (2000, 04). The only two men to medal at three Games over a nine-year period are Kahanamoku and Popov. When Popov took silver behind Van den Hoogenband he took his Olympic tally to four gold and five silvers). Thorpe (AUS) is the only man to have ever won medals over 100, 200 and 400m, his 48.54 for bronze in Athens 2004 faster than Popov ever swam at an Olympic Games (there was no 200m in Weissmuller's day, when he won 100 and 400m titles in 1924).

  • Fastest: 47.05 (semi) Eamon Sullivan (AUS); 47.21 (final), Alain Bernard (FRA)
  • World Record wins: Daniels, 1908; Kahanamoku, 1920; Wenden (AUS), 1968; Spitz, 1972; Montgomery, 1976.
  • Biggest margin: Montgomery's historic 49.99 in 1976 left him 0.82sec ahead for a modern-era record; Weissmuller is king, winning by 2.4sec in 1924.
  • Closest shave: Apart from the controversy below, Charles Scholes (USA) and Hiroshi Suzuki (JPN) both clocked 57.4 in 1952 but Scholes got the judge's decision. 
  • Most controversial and closest shave: In 1960, John Devitt (AUS) and Lance Larson (USA) each set (and kept) an Olympic record of 55.2. The clock favoured Larson (55.0, 55.1, 55.1, to 55.2, 55.2, 55.2). Three judges voted for each swimmer. An unofficial manual electronic readout system put Larson ahead, 55.10 to 55.16. German Hans Runstromer, the chief judge who had no official say in the matter, instructed Larson's time to be registered as 55.2 and ordered that gold go to Devitt. Four years of protests fell on deaf ears. Imagine the lawsuit in 2008!