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Irie Hacks 1.08sec Off 200m Back WR

May 10, 2009  - Craig Lord

Ryosuke Irie hacked 1.08sec off the 200m backstroke world record held by Ryan Lochte (USA), Olympic champion, with a 1:52.86 win at the Duel in the Pool between Australia and Japan in Canberra today. Irie did not wear the arena X-Glide leggings, a suit not yet approved by FINA for use, as first reported, but a new product developed by arena Japan and Descente.

Lochte Vs Irie splits compared: 

  • Irie: 26.84, 55.46 (28.62), 1:24.42 (28.96), 1:52.86 (28.44) 
  • Lochte: 27.24, 55.77 (28.53), 1:25.06 (29.29), 1:53.94 (28.88) 

So Irie can go out faster than Lochte but the bulk of that second gained on the American's standard came in the second-half of the race. Lochte, a 4:06 400 medley man may need to look at his fitness/endurance levels. Alternatively he could go shopping for the right suit for this season. Full body versions of the suit were worn by Alain Bernard (FRA) in the 100m freestyle and Yulia Efimova (RUS) in the 50m breaststroke in the past month, while the Jaked suit, another 100% non-permeable performance-enhancer, was responsible for other global standards this year. 

There are those who will doubtless point to the fact that Irie wore "only" leggings. Ask any of those who have conducted lab tests on suits over the past 18 months if fast fabric leggings make a difference to speed and endurance and they say" yes, no question. Angle of buoyancy is altered in all of these suits. No question. That Irie is clearly a fine technician and talent simply highlights the tragedy of the situation: not a single person I know in the swimming world could tell me hand on heart what difference the suit made. All we know is that it made a difference.

Irie hacked more than a second off the mark. The last time that happened at global level in the 200m backstroke was back in 1976, when John Naber, a powerhouse of a man, became the first man to break 2mins and brought and end to the era of Roland Matthes. That goggles were worn for the first time at an Olympic Games doubtless had an impact on the clock and accounted for some of the peaks of progress that had not been seen until 2008 onwards and the introduction of non-permeable fabrics into the race pool. The pioneering element of the suits was not the fabric itself - such things have been around in the world for many a long year. But they had never been allowed in suits before (Diana was refused when it tried to introduce such a suit in 2007). 

As for goggles Vs suits: little comparison. Goggles helped people to see and seeing is helpful at the turn and in other ways, so speed is improved. Suits contribute directly to speed, the efficiency of stroke, technique, angle of buoyancy and much more that used to set one swimmer apart from another without reference to a suit.

In the days of Krisztina Egerszegi and Alex Popov, to name just a few at the tip of generations of greats, when technique and a workload beyond the norm were clearly overriding factors, the swimming story was one of excellence, outstanding qualities, nurture and nature. The suit was not a part of the discussion. That would be impossible today for all but those who are determined to turn a blind eye to the fact that the sport we knew is dead and an impostor has taken its place.

Irie's effort made it 18 world records so far this year, 15 of them long-course, after the 26.89 blast of Felipe Silva in the 50m breaststroke at the Maria Lenk Trophy in  Rio last Friday. We are still in the second week in May. There will be those saying 'ah, but you would expect that in world championship year'. No you would not. 

That's 15 world l/c records so far this post-Olympic year with a world champs in the middle of the northern summer pending. Take the first five months of the post-Olympic world championship years 1994, 1998 (which includes the world championship result of January that year), 2001, 2005, and you have a total (that’s all four years) of 9 world records, all but two in 2001, when the world was catching up with a new trend seen for the first time in Olympic waters in Sydney: the drag-resistant full bodysuit.

Here's the off-the-chart progress of 22-year-old Silva (keep in mind, just the one length):

  • 26.89 May 2009
  • 27.72 Dec 2008
  • 28.18 Dec 2007
  • 28.79 2006

And here is Irie's amazing passage:

  • 1:52.86 May 2009, aged 19
  • 1:54.02 April 2009
  • 1:54.77 June 2008
  • 1:55.72 Olympics 2008
  • 1:57.30 Aug 2007

You'd expect that of someone so young, some say. No you wouldn't. After all, no 19-year-old has done anything close. No man, for that matter. Aaron Peirsol (USA) now lags Irie by 1.46sec - here's how Peirsol, one of the all-time greats of backstroke, timed his journey:

  • 1:54.32 2008 (25)
  • 1:54.77 2007
  • 1:54.44 2006
  • 1:54.66 2005
  • 1:54.74 2004 (21)
  • 1:55.82 2003
  • 1:55.15 2002 (19)
  • 1:56.56 2001
  • 1:57.03 2000 (17)

Irie, 19, set a best time and Japanese record of 1:54.02 at the Japanese world championship trials last month. Now he is 5sec ahead of the best Australia could find on the day at the duel. Between 17 and 19, Irie has improved 4.44sec. Peirsol's gain was less than 2sec. From there, Peirsol stayed ahead of the world until Ryan Lochte's charge.  Lochte came relatively late to backstroke by the age standards of Peirsol and Irie. After showing great promise with a 1:57.00 at 21, he spent 2006 working on it before making his big drop, at 23, with a 1:54 victory at Melbourne 2007. Loche's progress stood out as unusual among big winning backstroke aces. Until Irie. Lochte's year-by-year bests:

  • 1:53.94 2008
  • 1:54.32 2007
  • 1:58.13 2006
  • 1:57.00 2005
  • 2:02.21 2004 (20)

In Canberra, Irie, an Osaka university student was also just 0.02 seconds outside American Aaron Peirsol's 100m backstroke world record of 52.56secs, on Saturday.Irie said he was confident of breaking the world record again at the World Championships in Rome in July.

"I am very happy to break the world record in Australia and I am going to break (the world record) again at the world championships," he said. "I couldn't think I could go that fast. I can say only one phrase: unbelievable."

Australia’s national head coach Alan Thompson, who hinted that Bernard's world record may be open to question given that it was set in a suit not yet approved, was full of praise for Irie: "I think it’s a great world record. We first noticed him in the Japan open meet in Tokyo a couple of years ago and saw there that he was a real talent," Thompson said. "He’s probably technically one of the best backstrokers we’ve ever seen and I think it was probably just a matter of time before he broke a world record. He didn’t just shave something off it today - he took a whole second off it."

(Updated) No mention in that quote of what the suit may be doing to aid that performance, nor how the Japanese talent - who is clearly a great talent, weighs in at just 62kg and must have worked long and hard - has swum off the chart of the 'norm'. As a colleague from Down Under notes, it is just as difficult for Thompson as it is for the chief judge to say anything about a suit even when that suit has been seen because approved and non-approved garments look very similar and it is not always obvious what swimmers have worn on the way to a world record even for those right there on the deck. 

Thompson is among those who will this month find himself in a very awkward place: he is a member of the FINA committee that will approve the list of suits to be worn in Rome this summer. Coaches meet FINA on May 19 in Lausanne. If 100% non-permeable suits are nodded through for Rome, what will Thompson tell any of his swimmers who wear a Speedo and get swept into the gutter by someone in a Jaked? Presumably he will have to say of anyone, Bernard, Bousquet, Irie etc that "its a great world record" and that all is fair in love and the war of a new sport. It is a dreadful position to be in. It is one that stems from the embracing of the LZR last year.

Maybe the time has come for the likes of Thompson, caught between a rock and a hard place while watching his own squad benefit from performance enhancement in 2008, to point out to his swimmers that a continuation of the suits war, even for Rome this summer, may very well damage them this time round. Hard for a performance director to do that when his message to his troops must be "you're amazing and your best is the best there is, suit or no suit". We all know that suit or no suit does not work, otherwise the many swimmers who would rather not wear the fast-forward devices would not do so. They wear them because, like the German team last year, they know and believe that they will be hammered if they don't wear them. (end of update).

That may depend on whether Speedo has submitted a version of the LZR that contains more non-permeable material than it used to. Maybe it has, maybe it has not. Or maybe FINA will call a halt sooner rather than later, though that is doubtful, 2010 having been set as the date for any measures that may truly end call time on the impostor of an equipment-based sport that arrived in February 2008. We should know what's what for this summer by the end of May, seven weeks out from Rome. Whatever the answers to those questions above, here's another: where is the will in another season of woe to say enough is enough, let's do something to stop the rot right now and prevent Rome turning into a Circus Maximus.

Meanwhile, the Duel was won in a tight contest by 167 to 162 points in Australia's favour.Results at a glance:


  • 200m individual medley: 1. Asami Kitagawa (JPN) 2:12.79, 2. Tomoyo Fukuda (JPN) 2:13.58, 3. Stephanie Rice (AUS) 2:14.35
  • 200m backstroke: 1. Meagen Nay (AUS) 2:07.41, 2. Belinda Hocking (AUS) 2:09.01, 3. Aya Terakawa (JPN) 2:10.66
  • 200m breaststroke: 1. Rie Kaneto (JPN) 2:22.83, 2. Nanaka Tamura (JPN) 2:24.85, 3. Hitomi Nose (JPN) 2:25.80
  • 50m freestyle: 1. Libby Trickett (AUS) 24.27, 2. Cate Campbell (AUS) 24.68, 3. Marieke Guehrer (AUS) 25.01
  • 200m freestyle: 1. Felicity Galvez (AUS) 1:58.59, 2. Bronte Barratt (AUS) 1:59.83, 3. Hanae Ito (JPN) 2:00.15
  • 200m butterfly: 1. Jessicah Schipper (AUS) 2:07.83, 2. Yui Miyamoto (JPN) 2:08.37, 3. Samantha Hamill (AUS) 2:10.78
  • 400m medley relay: 1. Australia A 3:57.62, 2. Japan B 4:01.13, 3. Australia B 4:01.54
  • 200m individual medley: 1. Ken Takakuwa (JPN) 1:59.18, 2. Takuro Fujii (JPN) 1:59.87, 3. Yuya Horihata (JPN) 2:02.49
  • 200m backstroke: Ryosuke Irie (JPN) 1:52.86 (world record), 2. Ashley Delaney (AUS) 1:57.90, 3. Takashi Nakano (JPN) 1:58.01
  • 200m breaststroke: 1. Ryo Tateishi (JPN) 2:08.25, 2. Yuta Suenaga (JPN) 2:10.19, 3. Naoya Tomita (JPN) 2:10.77
  • 50m freestyle: 1. Andrew Lauterstein (AUS) 22.32, 2. Makoto Ito (JPN) 22.33, 3. Eamon Sullivan (AUS) 22.46
  • 200m freestyle: 1. Yoshihiro Okumura (JPN) 1:47.41, 2. Sho Uchida (JPN) 1:47.69, 3. Shogo Hihara (JPN) 1:48.27
  • 200m butterfly: 1. Takeshi Matsuda (JPN) 1:55.36, 2. Ryusuke Sakata (JPN) 1:56.38, 3. Christopher Wright (AUS) 1:58.05
  • 400m medley relay: 1. Japan A 3:31.91, Australia A 3:33.39, 3. Japan B 3:35.02