Today at the Eindhoven Cup in the Netherlands, American Randall Bal swam a 24.81 in the 50 back (long course). While the time only ties him for 14th in the world in 2009, under the circumstances, it was an outstanding swim considering one major detail: he wore a 2010-legal suit.
The Eindhoven Cup is notable because, in addition to only allowing suits that will be legal next year, it offers a monetary prize for eclipsing the world record in textile (i.e., whatever the record was on January 1, 2008). For the 50 back, that mark belongs to Thomas Rupprath, a 24.80 from 2003. Thus, Bal has come the closest of any swimmer to eclipsing what is considered at this meet a "world record."
For five years, Rupprath's mark was a magic standard. No one could touch it until the first generation of performance enhancing suits came out, when Liam Tancock obliterated it. The record has changed hands a couple of times since then, and a total of 15 swimmers (including Rupprath himself) have gone under that time. Many credited the suits, but maybe there was more to it.
While Bal's swim would be the male performance of the meet so far, on the women's side, that title would belong to Ranomi Kromowidjojo. She was timed in the 100 free on Friday in 53.95, just off her best time of 53.31 from the worlds when she wore a LZR. With a 53.95 at this point in the season, the 19-year old can certainly eclipse the textile "world record," which officially belongs Britta Steffen (53.30).
The same can be said for Cate Campbell, the 17-year old Aussie who swam a 53.03 on Friday while wearing her Adidas Hydrofoil. The lack of a fast suit will not stop her from getting back down to this time at the next major meet.
The swimming world isn't going to stop without the suits. On the contrary, the suits may have been the momentum to get everyone going again. Once magical standards such as those of Steffen and Rupprath are no longer such. Once a swimmer has gone a time, the clock cannot be turned back. There is the reason world records must not be adjusted.
So what is the meaning of 24.81 (and 53.95)? The swimmers are catching up to the suits, so don't turn back the clock.