Age Analysis of Rio Swimming Finalists: Breakdown by Event

Swimming World Magazine has published the second in a series of my articles analyzing Rio swimming performances. This one is “Age Analysis of Rio Swimming Finalists: The Older The Better!”, and involves a breakdown of ages by distance and stroke (see here).

This post provides additional information on the age range of swimmers as broken down by individual events.

Swimming is interesting in that we have elite swimmers from mid-teens to mid-30s.  If we add Dana Torres in there, we have elite swimmers right into their 40s, although she’s definitely an outlier.  So the question is, when we look at the truly elite, the Olympic finalists, what do we see?

My analysis in the Swimming World article unveiled what to me is a big surprise. You can find it in the table below. The 6-Country data is from an analysis I had previously carried out on the finalists and medalists at the Olympic Trials for 6 countries – see here.

Finalists overall age.jpg

The big surprise is that the higher level the meet, the faster the swimmers, and the older the swimmers are, on average. Here we’re seeing the truly elite swimmers with an average age of roughly 23 for women and just over 24 for men.

OK, so let’s look at the data for each event.

image006.gif

Not surprisingly, the 50 FR had the oldest average age. This event requires the most power, and that often comes with age.  Interestingly, the three lowest average ages belong to the 100 BK, 100 FR and 100 FL.  Age-based power doesn’t appear to be nearly as important in the 100 as it is in the 50.

The youngest age for all events are all 20 or younger, which is something we’ve been seeing for decades. Some swimmers hit their stride in their mid-teens.  The oldest swimmers, however, seem to be getting older. We didn’t use to see very many elite swimmers in their late 20s or 30s, but its not too uncommon now.

image005.gif

As you’ll see if you read the SW article, the men’s ages tracked a far more predictable path. When we grouped the events by distance, we found that the shorter the distance, the older the swimmer.  This held for the Rio Olympic finalists, the London Olympic finalists and the 6-Country Olympic Trial finalists. We see that echoed here with the second oldest average age (and the oldest age overall) in the 50 FR.  I can only speculate, but the power that comes from being a little older may be at play here for the men.

This is supported when we see that the other high average ages occur in the 200 IM, 100 BR, 100 FL and 200 FL. These are all short-axis events that require power.

When we look at the youngest swimmers in each final, we see many teens, but in general they’re older than the youngest women.  And when we look at the oldest men in each event, we see far more in their 30s (7 in their 30s) than with the women (2 in their 30s). And sure enough, other than the 100 BK, they occur in either the 50 FR, or short-axis events such as BR, FL or IM.

Summary

Based on this data, we can draw a few conclusions

  • the faster the meet, the older the swimmers
  • elite men tend to be roughly 1 year older than elite women
  • 50 FR tends to be the event with the oldest average age for both genders
  • short-axis races tend to have slightly older average age men than non-sprint long axis races
  • swimmers can reach truly elite levels from mid-teens to mid-30s
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One comment

  1. George Harris · · Reply

    Hm, interesting – no flurry of comments on age-related issues. Yet- I find an angle of possibly wide interest. Both Phelps in swimming and U.Bolt in athletics/sprint – two most famous and decorated Olympic athletes in modern history announced retirement at age 30-31. Hardly anyone competes in top level events at 34-35, right? I am curious – what is the ‘decay curve’ beyond 30 to – say 60 y.o. Phelps’ performance at age 25 was near identical to 30 – is there any research / data to show detailed downward slope between 30 to 60 ? I am not sure what age coach Rick is – but- probably still decently good swimmer.. or not? Most interesting – emerging issue is – with fast paced stem cell research, regenerative, epigenetic, bio-rejuvenating etc therapies – is there a near future (5-10 years) horizon, which can produce 35-40 y.o. top performers and 50-60 y.o. Olympic level competitors? Thanks.

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