In competitive swimming, is there an advantage to being in one lane or another?
No. Lane 4 has always been believed to be the "fastest" lane, but there is no scientific evidence of such.
Michael Phelps on being in lane 8 for the 400m individual medley final in the 2012 Olympics:
"The only thing that matters is just getting a spot in. You
can't win the gold medal from the morning."
If any given lane had a "competitive advantage," Phelps would most likely have had a different response.
World records, championships, and gold medals have been won from all lanes, especially lane 1 and lane 8.
German female swimmer Franziska van Almsick, swimming in lane 8, set a world record by winning the 200m freestyle with a time of 1:56.78 at the 1994 FINA World Championships. Her world record stood for eight years.
Australian male swimmer Kieren Perkins. swimming in lane 8, won gold in the 1500m freestyle with a time of 14:56.40 at the 1996 Olympics.
Chinese female swimmer Luo Xuejuan, swimming in lane 1, set an Olympic record by winning gold in the 100m breaststroke with a time of 1:06.64 at the 2004 Olympics. This was the third fastest time in history, 0.27 seconds off the world record.
Historically, world records, championships, and gold medals are won in middle lanes. This is because swimmers win their prelims, heats, etc.
The swimmers are placed in their respective lane based on their time. The fastest time will get lane 4 next round and the eighth-fastest time will get lane 8. Lane placement from fastest to eighth-fastest time: 4,5,3,6,2,7,1,8.