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Published by The Economist on Fri, 21 Nov 2014


IN THE 2012 London Olympics, Nathan Adrian won the men's 100-metre freestyle final with a personal best of 47.52 seconds, beating his nearest rival by just a hundredth of a second. Three days earlier, Mr Adrian swam first in the 4x100-metre freestyle relay. His split was 47.89 seconds, the slowest time of the four. Ryan Lochte, who does not specialise in 100-metre freestyle, went last, and set the second-worst time of 47.74 seconds. France beat the American team into second place by 0.45 seconds. Was Mr Adrian not trying hard enough'In an article published in the European Economic Review last year, Michael Neugart, of the Technical University of Darmstadt, and Matteo Richiardi, of the University of Torino, analysed data on 7,000 major swimming competitions held between 1972 and 2009. The huge trove of data allowed the researchers to compare the splits of swimmers who took part both in the individual and relay races in the same competition and isolate the causes of their performance.The authors found that the highest-ranked swimmers tend to swim first and last in the relay, and the weakest battle through the less glamorous second and third legs. But they also found, rather surprisingly, that swimmers who went first in the relay performed worse relative to their own...Continue reading
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