To investigate if swimming performance is better in a relay race than in the corresponding individual race.
The authors analyzed 166 elite male swimmers from 15 nations in the same competition (downloaded from www.swimrankings.net). Of 778 observed races, 144 were Olympic Games performances (2000, 2004, 2012), with the remaining 634 performed in national or international competitions. The races were 100-m (n = 436) and 200-m (n = 342) freestyle events. Relay performance times for the 2nd–4th swimmers were adjusted (+ 0.73 s) to allow for the “flying start.”
Without any adjustment, mean individual relay performances were significantly faster for the first 50 m and overall time in the 100-m events. Furthermore, the first 100 m of the 200-m relay was significantly faster (P > .001). During relays, swimmers competing in 1st position did not show any difference compared with their corresponding individual performance (P > .16). However, swimmers competing in 2nd–4th relay-team positions demonstrated significantly faster times in the 100-m (P < .001) and first half of the 200-m relays than in their individual events (P < .001, ES: 0.28–1.77). However, when finishing times for 2nd–4th relay team positions were adjusted for the flying start no differences were detected between relay and individual race performance for any event or split time (P > .17).
Highly trained swimmers do not swim (or turn) faster in relay events than in their individual races. Relay exchange times account for the difference observed in individual vs relay performance.