Open Access Research article

Changes in sex difference in swimming speed in finalists at FINA World Championships and the Olympic Games from 1992 to 2013

Stefanie Wild1, Christoph Alexander Rüst1, Thomas Rosemann1 and Beat Knechtle12*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of General Practice and for Health Services Research, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

2 Gesundheitszentrum St. Gallen, Vadianstrasse 26, 9001 St. Gallen, Switzerland

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BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 2014, 6:25  doi:10.1186/2052-1847-6-25

Published: 25 June 2014



This study investigated swimming speeds and sex differences of finalists competing at the Olympic Games (i.e. 624 female and 672 male athletes) and FINA World Championships (i.e. 990 women and 1008 men) between 1992 and 2013.


Linear, non-linear and multi-level regression models were used to investigate changes in swimming speeds and sex differences for champions and finalists.


Regarding finalists in FINA World Championships and Olympic Games, swimming speed increased linearly in both women and men in all disciplines and race distances. Male world champions’ swimming speed remained stable in 200 m butterfly, 400 m, 800 m and 1,500 m freestyle. Considering women, swimming speed remained unchanged in 50 m and 400 m freestyle. In the Olympic Games, swimming speed of male champions remained unchanged in 200 m breaststroke, 50 m, 400 m, 800 m and 1,500 m freestyle. Female Olympic champions’ swimming speed remained stable in 100 m and 200 m backstroke, 100 m butterfly, 200 m individual medley, 50 m and 200 m freestyle. Evaluating sex differences between finalists in FINA World Championships, results showed a linear decrease in 100 m breaststroke and 200 m butterfly and a non-linear increase in 100 m backstroke. In finals at the Olympic Games, the sex difference decreased linearly for 100 m backstroke, 400 m and 800 m freestyle. However, a linear increase for 200 m butterfly can be reported. Considering Olympic and world champions, the sex difference remained stable in all disciplines and race distances.


Swimming speed of the finalists at the Olympic Games and FINA World Championships increased linearly. The top annual female swimmers increased swimming speed rather at longer race distances (i.e. 800 m and 1,500 m freestyle, 200 m butterfly, and 400 m individual medley), whereas the top annual male swimmers increased it rather at shorter race distances (i.e. 100 m and 200 m freestyle, 100 m butterfly, and 100 m breaststroke). Sex difference in swimming was unchanged in Olympic and world champions. Finalists and champions at the Olympic Games and FINA World Championships reduced the sex difference with increasing race distance.

Swimming speed; Sex difference