Women’s 200-Meter World Records
Unlike the men’s 200 meters, the world record progression in the women’s 200 dates to 1922 because the early record-holders were recognized by the International Women’s Sports Federation. The IAAF accepted the early 200-meter records when the two organizations merged in 1936. Today, however, no 200-meter performances between 1936 and 1951 are accepted as part of the recognized world record progression because some races were run on straight tracks, while modern 200-meter events begin on a curve. As with the men’s record progression, results from 220-yard races – which total 201.17 meters – were eligible for 200-meter record consideration until the mid-1960s.
The first three recognized 200-meter world record-holders were all from Great Britain, beginning with Alice Cast, who was timed in 27.8 seconds at the 200-meter mark of a 300-meter race in Paris in 1922. Her record lasted just one month until Mary Lines finished a 220-yard event in 26.8 seconds. Eileen Edwards broke the world record three times between 1924 and 1927, peaking at 25.4 seconds in a meet in Berlin. Edwards’ final record lasted until 1933 when Tollien Schuurman of the Netherlands ran 24.6 in Brussels. Poland’s Stanislawa Walasiewicz lowered the mark to 23.6 in 1935, the final recognized record from the pre-IAAF era.
The IAAF Steps In
The 1952 Olympics in Helsinki were particularly memorable for Australia’s Marjorie Jackson, who won gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters. Jackson had already secured her 100-meter gold when she became the first woman recognized as the 200-meter world record-holder by the IAAF after winning her initial heat in 23.6 seconds. The mark didn’t survive the day, however, as Jackson won her semifinal race in 23.4, before taking the gold on the following day in 23.89 seconds. Another Australian, Betty Cuthbert, ran 23.2 seconds twice, at 200 meters in 1956 and 220 yards in 1960. American Wilma Rudolph interrupted Australia’s hold on the world mark by running 22.9 seconds in the 200 later in 1960. In 1964, Margaret Burvill brought part of the record back to Australia by matching Rudolph’s time in a 220-yard race, the last such event to be recognized as a women’s 200-meter record.
Poland’s 19-year-old Irena Kirszenstein – later known as Irena Szewinska – set her first world record in 1965, running the 200 in 22.7 seconds. She lowered the mark to 22.5 in the 1968 Olympic final. Taiwan’s Chi Cheng dropped the record to 22.4 seconds in 1970. East Germany’ Renate Stecher matched the mark in the 1972 Olympic final, and then set a new standard of 22.1 in 1973. Szewinska tied the record the following year, almost nine years after setting her initial mark. But Szewinska was then given sole possession of the record when the IAAF began recognizing electronically-recorded times to the hundredth of a second. Szewinska’s time was re-entered into the books at 22.21 and remained there until East Germany’s Marita Koch began her assault on the record books with a time of 22.06 in 1978. Koch lowered her mark three more times, peaking at 21.71 in 1984. Fellow East German Heike Drechsler matched Koch twice in 1986.
Florence Griffith-Joyner enjoyed one of the greatest sprinting performances in Olympic history in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. She earned the 100-meter gold medal in a wind-aided 10.54 seconds and went on to earn a gold as part of the victorious United States 4 x 100-meter relay team. In between, Flo-Jo shattered the 200-meter world record twice in one day, running 21.56 seconds in the semifinal round, and then taking the gold medal in a time of 21.34. Between 1988 and 2016, the fastest 200-meter times belonged to Marion Jones, who ran 21.62 at altitude in 1998, and Dafne Schippers, who posted a 21.63-second time at the 2015 World Championships.