How Tall Are The Shortest Olympic Swimmers?

As a shorter swimmer, I am fascinated with how I can use my shorter size to my advantage, and figure out if my smaller height means I am simply too short to swim competitively.

One of the shortest female swimmers in history to win Olympic gold is Janet Evans at a height of 5’5″ and one of the shortest male swimmers to win an Olympic gold medal is Brad Cooper, at a height of 5’3″.

  • Brad Cooper won his gold medal in the 400m freestyle at the 1972 Olympic games. [source]
  • Janet Evans won four Olympic gold medals at the 1998 and 1992 Olympics. [source]

Outside of Olympic champions, we have had lots of shorter swimmers winning world records and medals at World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Tracey Wickham (5’4″) won her first gold medals at the 1978 World Championships in Berlin, in the 400m and 800 m freestyle. [source]

Over time, the average height of swimmers seems to get taller, although anything under 5’10” is still short for a swimmer, even in the past. [source]

Can A Short Person Be An Olympic Swimmer?

When it comes to competition, the history books only remember medal winners.

Although shorter swimmers appear less frequently on the medal tables as they are in the minority, there are plenty of shorter swimmers that qualify for the Olympics and even make it to the Olympic final.

Shorter people can definitely be Olympic swimmers.

Although the height advantage is hard to beat in shorter sprint races of less than 200m, once the swimming length increases to 400m plus, it is your swimming technique that will win you a medal.

The Olympics are typically structured with multiple heats, slowly cutting down the crowd until we have a final that consists of the 8 fastest swimmers.

There are often shorter swimmers that are in the heats or semi-finals, that, unfortunately, did not make it through to the final.

Unless you are a swimming geek like me, you will not be watching all these heats and will miss the few shorter swimmers that take part.

If you are fast enough to make it to the Olympics and stand on those swimming blocks regardless of whether it’s a final, you are a fast swimmer and an Olympian.

How Tall Are The Shortest Swimmers?

It is hard to find a meaningful group of swim stats to convey the vast variety that exists in swimmers.

It is true that competitive swimmers are on average 4 to 6 inches taller than the average person, and there is endless data proving how tall swimmers are. [source]

To give some balance, and show that you do not have to be 6 feet or taller to be an elite swimmer, here is a list of some of the best shorter swimmers from history and their individual heights.

The Shortest Female Swimmers

Swimmer NameHeightCountrySwim Strokes Medals
Janet Evans5’5″USAFreestyle / Individual Medley
Katinka Hosszu5’6″HungaryFreestyle / Medley / Backstroke
Tracey Wickham5’4″AustraliaFreestyle
Libby Trickett5’6″AustraliaFreestyle / Butterfly
Hali Flickinger5’5″USAFreestyle / Butterfly / Medley
Kim Leinehan5’6″USAFreestyle
Margaret Mac Neil5’7″CanadaButterfly / Backstroke / Freestyle
Mireia Belmonte5’7″SpainFreestyle / Butterfly / Medley

The Shortest Male Swimmers

Swimmer NameHeightCountrySwim Strokes Medals
Tomomu Mortia5’6″Japan
Tomoru Honda5’8″JapanButterfly
Daiya Seto5’9″JapanButterfly / Individual Medley
Brad Cooper5’3″AustraliaFreestyle / Backstroke
Ricardo Prado5.6″BrazilMedley / Backstroke
Kosuke Hagino5’10”JapanBackstroke / Freestyle / Medley
Don Schollander5’11”USAFreestyle

Can You Be A Fast Swimmer If You Are Short?

You can be a fast swimmer if you are short.

Being tall in swimming is an advantage, however, once your swim distance increases to over 200m, this height advantage is diminished.

If being tall was the only factor in swim speed, it would be a height competition and there would be little point in getting wet.

For short sprint races, just like running, being tall with long limbs and lots of muscle will give you an enormous advantage and lots of power.

Once the distance is longer, however, for example, 400m or longer, it is more important to have a better swimming technique.

If you are a short swimmer, you can improve your underwater kicks and tumble turns to really gain some speed and ground.

If you want to learn more about how you can swim faster as a shorter swimmer, check out this article that covers the topic in greater depth, How To Swim Fast If You Are Short? (Top Tips)

Final Thoughts

I am 5’1″ and definitely on the shorter side when it comes to swimming.

Looking at all these great swimming competitors that have smashed world records who are also on the shorter side, I am inspired and eager to improve my technique to swim faster.

If someone can win a world championship or Olympic gold medal at a height of 5’3″, then we know that although most swimmers are tall, being shorter is not a blockage to becoming a world great or simply swimming faster.

Happy swimming!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

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