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Friday, May 8, 2015

How Men And Women Compare In Open Water Swimming

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The comparison against men and women in the open water is always an interesting exercise, especially since women are on average historically faster than men in the English Channel.

The top 3 men in the world in the 50m freestyle in the pool are 11.7% faster than the top women.

The top 3 men in the world in the 800m freestyle in the pool are 8.4% faster than the top women.

The top 3 men in the world in the 1 km ice swim are 12.3% faster than the top women.

The winning men on the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit are consistently on average 7% faster than the winning women.

The top 3 men in the Olympic 10 km Marathon Swim (2008 and 2012) were about 6.8% faster than the top women.

But what happens on the amateur level?

We looked at the results of Day Two at the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge, a 14.4 km (9-mile) race in Canyon Lake where 41 of the 41 solo marathon swimmers finished for a 100% success rate.

21 men with an average age of 46.6 years finished with an average time of 4:45.23. In contrast, 20 women with an average age of 47.7 years finished with an average time of 4:45.29.

Not only were the ages of these swimmers remarkably close, the average time was stunningly close with only 6 tenths of a second separately the sexes over 4 hours 45 minutes of racing.

Note: the women's average time would have undoubtedly been a bit faster if Elizabeth Fry [shown above] would have only swum a one leg of Canyon Lake instead of swimming two laps of the 14.4 km course. For calculation purposes, we divided Fry's time in half, but her one-way time would have certainly helped the women's average time be faster.

What is remarkable is that the sport of open water swimming is rapidly shifting to be much more female compared to the sport in the 20th century and the sport is shifting older. Imagine that the average age of a 4-day 41.7-miles (66.9 km) stage swim if 47 years old. That fact in itself is a testament to the aging of the sport. But aging, in the case of the sport of open water swimming, does not imply a weakness or reduction of performance.

Rather as the participants age, it appears that they are also getting faster and stronger and more capable of swimming further. Open water swimming is a sport and an athletic pursuit like no other.

Day One results from Saguaro Lake are here. Day Two results from Canyon Lake are here.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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