LONDON (Reuters) - In swimming, perhaps more than any other Olympic sport, world records really are meant to be broken.
The crowds scream with uncontrolled delight whenever the letters “WR” flash up on the giant scoreboards then sigh with frustration when swimmers just miss out on setting a new record.
It is not uncommon for dozens of records to be set during the Olympic programme, where swimmers are primed to be at their absolute peak, and it is all part of the endearing appeal of swimming at Games.
Records rarely last long in swimming but they have suddenly dried up in the past two years, the legacy of a bodysuit war that reduced the sport to farce and turned it into a battle of technology.
The rubberized bodysuits, which aided buoyancy and streamlining and allowed swimmers to set incredible times, helped produce more than 40 world records at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
Some of the greatest records in swimming, including those set by Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe, disappeared, provoking howls of protest from the swim world.
The suits were banned at the end of the 2009 but most of the records remains and have proven almost impossible to scrub off the list.
Since the suits were banned, only two people have set individual long-course world records, both at last year’s world championships in Shanghai.
Ryan Lochte broke his own 200 meters individual medal record and China’s Sun Yang bettered Grant Hackett’s long-standing 1500 freestyle mark, one of the few records that survived the bodysuit war.
For most of the swimmers and their coaches, the bodysuit controversy has been sunk forever and it is time for the records to start tumbling again.
“I think we’re going to see a few world records,” Dutch coach Jacco Verhaeren told Reuters.
Verhaeren coached Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn to multiple Olympic gold medals and world records but all their records have been beaten.
“Everyone understands why the world records aren’t there but I don’t think in the inner circle of swimming, people don’t think they can break them.”
Natalie Coughlin, who lost her 100m backstroke record, also predicted a return of faster times.
“I’d say there will be records,” she told Reuters.
“I don’t think there will be as many as Beijing but it’s the Olympic Games. People are going to swim out of their minds.”
Phelps, who has won more gold medals and set more world records than anyone else, said it was all just a case of mind over matter.
“People have got to get out of their heads that these records are untouchable,” he told Reuters.
“Everything is possible. That’s something I have learnt in my career. There are no limits if you want to go out and do it then you just go out and do it.” (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)