Everyone understands and appreciates the value of drafting in open water swimming competitions.

But how much is drafting worth? How much faster can an athlete race while drafting in the slipstream of another swimmer in competition?

It is one thing to test out and compare the differences of swimming fast in a test lab with the analysis of a researcher. But what is the actual value of drafting in the heat of competition among world-class swimmers?

We compared the times of the world-class swimmers at the 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona in both the solo 5 km event and the 5 km team pursuit event. Both courses were held on the same course on different days. While this comparison is not an exact measure where differences in conditions come into play, a comparison does give an indication of the value of drafting among world-class open water athletes.

The 2013 FINA World Championships in Barcelona were held in a harbor under conditions that were similar: low winds, little surface turbulence, and comfortable water temperatures. So the differences in the relative conditions were minimal. On the other hand, the conditions of swimming while facing extreme physicality in a pack is remarkably different than swimming in a team pursuit race where swimmers have the advantage of clean water and pure drafting.

Additionally, while the women generally swam much faster in the team event while drafting off of their faster male teammates, the men were conversely significantly faster in the solo event where they were able to swim at 100%.

At the extreme ends of the spectrum, Germany’s Isabelle Franziska Harle swam nearly 4 minutes faster swimming behind teammates Christian Reichert and Thomas Lurz in the team pursuit event compared with her 5 km solo race among women. This time differential equates to at least 325 meters in distance – light years in the open water swimming world. Conversely, New Zealand’s Kane Radford was 2 minutes 24 seconds slower and Chad Ho was 3 minutes in their 5 km team pursuit efforts versus their swims in the solo 5 km.

The differences between men and women among the different countries is below:

GERMANY
Thomas Lurz 52:52.0 (team) vs. 53:32.2 (solo)
Isabelle Franziska Harle 52:54.9 (team) vs. 56:46.2 (solo)

GREECE
Kalliopi Araouzou 54:03.3 (team) vs. 56:45.3 (solo)

BRAZIL
Samuel De Bona 54:03.3 (team) vs. 53:34.9 (solo)
Poliana Okimoto Cintra 54:03.5 (team) vs. 56:34.4 (solo)

AUSTRALIA
Jarrod Poort 54:15.8 (team) vs. 53:34.3 (solo)

ITALY
Luca Ferretti 54:32.7 (team) vs 53:47.1 (solo)
Rachele Bruni 54:34.0 (team) vs. 56:48.1 (solo)

U.S.A.
Andrew Gemmel 54:42.4 (team) vs. 53:38.7 (solo)
Sean Ryan 54:43.1 (team) vs. 53:45.9 (solo)
Haley Anderson 54:44.7 (team) vs. 56:34.2 (solo)

NEW ZEALAND
Kane Radford 56:08.6 (team) vs. 53:44.3 (solo)
Cara Baker 56:11.7 (team) vs. 56:46.2 (solo)
Phillip Ryan 56:12.0 (team) vs. 56:17.5 (solo)

FRANCE
Damien Cattin-Vidal 55:25.8 (team) vs. 53:38.4 (solo)
Aurelie Muller 55:26.3 (team) vs. 56:46.5 (solo)

HUNGARY
Mark Papp 56:05.8 (team) vs. 53:55.3 (solo)
Anna Olasz 56:09.4 (team) vs. 56:58.4 (solo)

RUSSIA
Evgeni Drattcev 56:06.9 (team) vs. 53:38.6 (solo)
Anastasia Azarova 56:08.7 (team) vs. 57:04.3 (solo)

CANADA
Eric Hedlin 57:10.7 (team) vs. 53:31.6 (solo)
Philippe Guertin 57:08.0 (team) vs. 53:46.4 (solo)

SOUTH AFRICA
Chad Ho 56:33.4 (team) vs. 53:33.7 (solo)
Daniel Marais 56:34.4 (team) vs. 53:51.0 (solo)
Kyna Pereira 56:34.7 (team) vs. 57:30.8 (solo)

ECUADOR
Ivan Alejandro Enderica Ochoa 1:00:30.5 (team) vs. 53:36.7 (solo)
Katia Paola Barros Esquivel 1:00:32.6 (team) vs. 57:26.4 (solo)

VENEZUELA
Johndry Segovia 58:59.9 (team) vs. 54:02.3 (solo)
Florencia Melo 58:59.4 (team) vs. 1:01:32.5 (solo)

EGYPT
Adel Ragab 1:00:57.2 (team) vs. 54:20.4 (solo)
Youssef Hossameldeen 1:00:57.9 (team) vs. 57:08.5 (solo)
Laila El Basiouny 1:01:02.2 (team) vs. 1:01:52.4 (solo)

KAZAKHSTAN
Vitaliy Khudyakov 1:00:13.2 (team) vs. 54:24.8 (solo)

TUNISIA
Seifeddine Sghaier 59:16.3 (team) vs. 57:10.1 (solo)
Maroua Mathlouthi 59:19.4 (team) vs. 59:51.8 (solo)

HONG KONG
Ching Leung Sunny Poon 1:01:26.6 (team) vs. 1:00:05.9 (solo)
Chun Hong Li 1:01:41.5 (team) vs. 1:00:15.9 (solo)

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