We studied the relationship between left ventricular (LV) function and the increased LV mass in 18 highly trained rowing athletes (14 men, 4 women; mean age 20.7 +/- 4.5 years) using pulsed wave Doppler tissue imaging (PWDTI). Thirteen untrained volunteers, matched for age and body mass index, acted as control participants. Peak systolic, early diastolic (Ev), and late diastolic (Av) myocardial velocities (cm/s); Ev/Av ratio; and isovolumic relaxation time (ms) were measured at the level of basal lateral wall and basal posterior interventricular septum (bas-IVS) segments. In comparison with control participants, athletes showed a greater LV cavity size (P <.05), wall thickness (IVS, P <.001; posterior wall, P <.01), and mass index (P <.001). In athletes, systolic velocity of bas-IVS had increased (P <.001) and was positively correlated with IVS thickness (r = 0.66, P <.005) and LV mass index (r = 0.71, P <.001). Of the PWDTI-measured diastolic indexes, Ev/Av ratio significantly increased in athletes in comparison with control participants in both the examined segments (bas-IVS, P <.05; basal lateral wall, P <.05). When Ev and Av were separately considered, a different behavior was found in the 2 segments: Ev significantly increased in the basal lateral wall (P <.005); Av significantly decreased in the bas-IVS. The increase in the systolic velocity of bas-IVS suggests that septum greatly contributes to the longitudinal LV systolic shortening and increase of stroke volume in athletes compared with untrained participants. Moreover, the behavior of PWDTI diastolic velocities suggests a more effective relaxation activity in the longitudinal axis at the level of lateral wall. This study suggests therefore the usefulness of PWDTI in the assessment of functional properties of "athlete's heart" and differentiation from pathologic cardiac conditions.