What Is The Value Of Drafting?

What Is The Value Of Drafting?

Everyone in the car racing, cycling, triathlon, and open water swimming worlds understands and appreciates the value of drafting in competition. But how much is it worth? That is, how much faster can a swimmer travel while drafting in the slipstream of other swimmers in competition?

It is one thing to test out and compare the differences of swimming fast in a test lab or under the guidance of a researcher. But what is the actual value of drafting in the heat of competition by world-class swimmers? That would be great to know.

We compared the times of the world-class swimmers at the 2011 FINA World Championships 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 and has significant differentials, the comparison does give an indication of the value of drafting among world-class open water athletes.

Fortunately, the 2011 FINA World Championships were held in a protected area under conditions that were remarkably similar: low winds, little surface turbulence, high water temperatures. So the differences in the conditions were minimal. That being said, 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%. For example, Ashley Twichell was able to swim the 5 km in 57:00.6 drafting off two teammates while she earned a bronze medal in the 5 km solo event in 1:00:40.2, a full 3 minutes 40 seconds slower – or easily 300 meters in distance. Conversely, her teammate Andrew Gemmell was 35 seconds slower in his 5 km team pursuit effort of 56:59 versus his 56:24 effort in the solo 5 km.

The Women

Ashley Twichell (USA): 57:00.6 (team) vs. 1:00:40.2 (solo)
Isabelle Härle (GER): 57:44.2 (team) vs. 1:00:52.9 (solo)
Rachele Bruni (ITA): 58:00.5 (team) vs. 1:00:42.2 (solo)
Ekaterina Seliverstova (RUS): 58:32.7 (team) vs. 1:00:44.1 (solo)
Ophelie Aspord (FRA): 1:00:27.3 (team) vs. 1:00:44.9 (solo)
Zsofia Balazs (CAN): 1:02:08.7 (team) vs. 1:01:39.0 (solo)

The Men

Andrew Gemmell (USA): 56:59.9 (team) vs. 56:24.8 (solo)
Sean Ryan (USA): 57:00.0 (team) vs. 56:30.1 (solo)
Jan Wofgarten (GER): 57:40.4 (team) vs. 56:40.2 (solo)
Thomas Lurz (GER): 57:42.0 (team) vs. 56:16.6 (solo)
Nicola Bolzonello (ITA): 57:59.6 (team) vs. 56:24.3 (solo)
Evgeny Drattcev (RUS): 58:30.9 (team) vs. 56:18.5 (solo)
Sergey Bolshakov (RUS): 58:31.0 (team) vs. 56:26.0 (solo)
Spyros Gianniotis (GRE): 59:19.3 (team) vs. 56:17.4 (solo)
Antonis Fokaidis (GRE): 59:22.2 (team) vs. 56:46.0 (solo)
Damien Cattin-Vidal (FRA): 1:00:26.5 (team) vs. 56:27.4 (solo)
Wenchao Xu (CHN): 1:00:55.9 (team) vs. 56:32.2 (solo)
Richard Weinberger (CAN) 1:02:08.4 (team) vs. 56:33.7 (solo)
Aimeson King (CAN) 1:02:08.4 (team) vs. 59:09.3 (solo)

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