“Sex differences between the world’s best athletes in most events have remained relatively stable at approximately 8 to 12%,” explained Øyvind Sandbakk, Ph.D., managing director of the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, to Healthline.
“The exceptions are events in which upper-body power is a major contributor, where this difference is more than 12%, and ultra-endurance swimming, where the gap is now less than 5%.”
“Although women generally do not outperform men in endurance events, open-water ultra-endurance swimming offers an exception,” Dr. Sandbakk said.
“In the 32-kilometer Catalina Channel Swim and 46-kilometer Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the fastest women ever were faster than the best-performing men. Although these two races are currently the exceptions where women outperform men, the sex differences in open-water swimming are indeed smaller than in other sports.”
“While the data points to the accuracy of Dr. Sandbakk’s statements and research in the Catalina Channel swims and the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, I think there are some additional surprising conclusions and generally unrecognized information about the sport,” added Steven Munatones of the World Open Water Swimming Association.
“Firstly, the record for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim – like the Catalina Channel and the English Channel – has been held at separate times by both male and female swimmers throughout its history. At the time of Dr. Sandbakk’s research, Shelley Taylor-Smith held the record for swimming around Manhattan, but it is currently held by Oliver Wilkinson.
Secondly, there is an important differences among swimmers at the elite levels comparing the Catalina Channel and the English Channel. When Penny Dean set the existing record (back in 1976), she was young and nearing the pinnacle of her career. But there has not been a top professional male marathon swimmer attempt the Catalina Channel since Chad Hundeby crossed in 1993.
In contrast, many top professional men have made attempts at the English Channel and the men dominate history’s fastest times.*
But dig deeper and the average time for successful female English Channel swimmers is faster than the average time of the successful male English Channel swimmers since 1875 (note: all DNF’s were not counted). So Dr. Sandbakk’s conclusion stands not only true at least in the English Channel, but also across the test of time in the most renowned marathon swim in the world.”
* Top 10 Fastest English Channel Crossings in History
1. Trent Grimsey (Australia) E-F in 2012 in 6 hours 55 minutes
2. Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) E-F in 2007 in 6 hours 57 minutes
3. Christof Wandratsch (Germany) E-F in 2005 in 7 hours 3 minutes
4. Yuri Kudinov (Russia) E-F in 2007 in 7 hours 5 minutes
5. Vitek Rostislav (Czech Republic) E-F in 2009 in 7 hours 16 minutes
6. Chad Hundeby (USA) E-F in 1994 in 7 hours 17 minutes
7. Christof Wandratsch (Germany) E-F in 2003 in 7 hours 20 minutes
8. by Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) E-F in 2006 in 7 hours 21 minutes
9. David Meca (Spain) E-F in 2005 in 7 hours 22 minutes
10. Yvetta Hlavacova (Czech Republic) E-F in 2006 in 7 hours 25 minutes
where 100% of the All-time Top 10 English Channel swimmers were professional marathon swimmers, as opposed to the All-time Top 10 Catalina Channel swimmers where only two were professional marathon swimmers.
* Top 10 Fastest Catalina Channel Crossings in History
1. Penny Lee Dean (USA) MC in 1976 in 7 hours 15 minutes
2. Grace van der Byl (USA) CM in 2012 in 7 hours 27 minutes
3. Pete Huisveld (USA) MC in 1992 in 7 hours 37 minutes
4. John York, USA) MC in 1978 (first leg of a 2-way) in 7 hours 41 minutes
5. Karen Burton (USA) CM in 1994 in 7 hours 43 minutes
6. Todd Robinson (USA) CM in 2009 in 8 hours 5 minutes
7. Hank Wise (USA) CM in 2010 in 8 hours 7 minutes 3 seconds
8. Hank Wise (USA) MC in 2015 in 8 hours 7 minutes 37 seconds
9. Chad Hundeby (USA) CM in 1993 in 8 hours 14 minutes
10. Gemma Jensen (Australia) CM in 2006 in 8 hours 20 minutes
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