World Records and Yards


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

September, to me, means short course. It’s the return of the short course season, of high school and collegiate dual meets, of long distance sets and “getting back in shape.” As we transition from long course back to short course, and as record-breaking performances begin, I always wonder:

Why couldn’t we have short course yards world records?

I understand there are complications and requirements to set and break world records, like FINA ratification and approval of facilities, etc... I understand the rest of the world uses meters, so a “world record” in a relatively unorthodox distance just isn’t accurate. So we could never call a yards swim a “world record.”

But there’s no clear, concise way to explain that a certain performance is the fastest time ever swum in yards.

We have American records, designated for Americans. We have NCAA records for collegiate athletes, and meet records, of course. Currently, the U.S. Open record is used to designate the fastest yards time swum on U.S. soil. Since the rest of the world doesn’t swim in yards, the U.S. Open record is like a de facto “world record.”

But there’s a marketing problem with this. Throughout the short course season, we as swim fans witness some of the greatest individual and relay performances in history. Most of the time, these performances come at the NCAA Championships – which is, in my opinion, the most competitive meet in the world outside the U.S. Olympic Trials. When these jaw-dropping times are accomplished, there’s no clear way to designate to those outside the swimming community – those in the offices of ESPN or Sports Illustrated or other news entities – that these yards times are the fastest ever.

Headlines about broken “U.S. Open records” just don’t carry the same weight as “world records.”

So, since “world record yards” is an oxymoron, maybe we could just call these performances the “fastest yards time ever”? We could conjure some sort of acronym like B.E.S.T.Y. (best-ever short-course time yards). (I’m kidding, but you get the idea.) Regardless, I think some way to designate what is the fastest ever short course time in yards should be used, if only for publicity and marketing’s sake.

Swimming, as a sport, would like to get all the publicity we can get. In an era when ESPN doesn’t even carry many World Championship headlines on their front page, now we’re back to entering the “quiet zone” of swimming – that between-championships period that’s quietly ticking down the clock until Missy Franklin or Ryan Lochte swim against international competition again.

Sometimes, it’s a long wait.

I’m not trying to disparage the amazing accomplishment of breaking an American, NCAA, or U.S. Open record. I’m just thinking in terms of perspective when it comes to outside-the-pool entities who sometimes need a little nudge to contextually understand how amazing some of these short course yards performances really are. In a day and age when headlines occasionally need to be bigger and bolder, perhaps some sort of title to designate when the fastest-ever yards time is performed might result in wider interest in these accomplishments and performances.

Every now and then, a domestic “yards meet” is switched to short course meters specifically to break world records. I remember when the NCAA Championships were held in short course meters, allowing NCAA swimmers a crack at a world record during their career peak. I know that short course meets here in America are gradually shifting focus towards the meters format. It’s important and a positive step to continue doing so. Ideally, we would be on the same format as the rest of the world.

The problem is, we swim fans know what are those “best ever yards swims,” but many in the rest of the non-swimming community do not. Swim fans know how huge of an accomplishment breaking an American or U.S. Open record is, but some of our colleagues and friends covering other sports still defer swimming coverage for the time when they can use “world record broken” in the headline.

So maybe we rephrase. It would be fun to have specific terminology to designate the record for the fastest ever yards performances. It would be exciting for swim fans, and for the general media as well.