Stevens, A. A., Senefeld, J., Joyner, M. J., & Hunter, S. K. (2013). Sex differences in the world’s fastest swimming with advanced age. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(5), Supplement abstract number 2053.

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This analysis determined whether the gender difference among the top 10 world-record holders in swimming differs with the place (1st to 10th), advanced age, stroke, and distance. Swimming times of the top 10 world-record performances of men and women (25 to 89 yrs) were analyzed in 5-year age brackets for freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly stroke. Distances included 50m, 100m, and 200m for all strokes and additionally 400m, 800m, and 1500 m for freestyle. Gender differences in long course swimming times (% difference between men and women relative to men) up to 10th fastest time in each event were calculated and compared.

For freestyle, men were faster than women by 12.4 ± 4.2% (N = 780 pairs of men and women) across all age groups and distances. The gender difference for freestyle decreased with distance (14.9 ± 4.0% for 50 m to 10.4 ± 4.0% for 1500m) and increased with age (8.5 ± 2.9%, 25-29 years to 20.3 ± 3.5%, 85-89 years). The gender difference in freestyle events also increased with place of the record holder (10.7 ± 4.0% for 1st to 12.9 ± 4.2% for 10th). That increase was consistent across all age groups and distances. The comparison of strokes (50m, 100m, and 200m) showed that gender difference decreased with distance and increased with age and place for all strokes. The greatest gender difference was in butterfly stroke among the old age-groups (85-89 yrs: 27.6 ± 4.5% for fly versus 19.7%-22.4% for other strokes) with a similar gender difference for strokes in younger age-groups.

Implication. While the gender difference in the world’s fastest swimming times increased with place of the record holder and advanced age for all strokes, the gender difference in longer distance swimming, was less than for elite marathon runners. A smaller gender difference in distance swimming reflects the physiological differences of men and women and the physiological demands in the longer versus shorter distance events.

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