A Demographic Shift: Ages of U.S. Olympic Swimmers


By Matt Barbini//National Team High Performance Consultant

Recently, I have written two articles about the path our 2012 Olympic athletes and medalists took to London. This article is going to continue to expand upon that research and look at the progression of our Olympic rosters as a whole over the last few Olympic cycles, in particular the age of our Olympic qualifying athletes.


It is no secret that the landscape of swimming in the United States has changed over the last several decades. One of the noticeable impacts of these changes has been a shift in the demographic makeup of our Olympic rosters, particularly in terms of age. In 1984 the average age on our Olympic roster was 21.2 for the men and 18.3 for the women. By 2012 those numbers had risen to 25.8 years of age for the men and 21.6 for the women.


While this increase is quite stark, the progression has been rather steady over the last 7 Olympic cycles. Check out the chart below which shows the average age of our Olympians for each games: 

 Average Age of U.S. Olympians from 1984-2012.

When we look at our medalists the evolution of our Olympic rosters continues to be apparent. In 1984 the average age of our medalists was 21.2 for the men and 18.7 for the women. In 2012 our average male medalist was 26.2 and our average female medalist was 21.4. This progression has been similar to that of our roster as a whole, see below. 


Average Age of U.S. Olympic Medalists from 1984-2012.
So, what does all this mean? In my opinion, it points to a couple positive trends for swimming in this country. First, developments in technique, nutrition, recovery and training opportunities for post-graduates have led to longer careers for many athletes. These improvements have helped to prevent injury and allow athletes to significantly extend their competitive years. Second, the ‘pool’ (pardon the pun) from which we will draw our top athletes is expanding. While the average age of our Olympic athletes has been shifting older, the age of the youngest athletes to make the team has remained relatively static, (particularly on the women’s side) meaning that many of our athletes are still gaining invaluable experience at a young age which, will aid them as their careers develop and lengthen.