Previous studies have shown that endurance athletes are endowed with low ventilatory responses to chemical stimuli. The implications of this association have never been clear. Although recent evidence shows that exercise ventilation (VE) correlates with ventilatory chemoresponsiveness in a group of athletes, the extent to which non-athletes may differ from athletes in this regard is unknown. We have examined the relationship between ventilatory chemoresponsiveness and exercise VE in a group of 7 non-athletes, and contrasted these findings with those obtained previously from 8 endurance and 8 non-endurance athletes. Correlation lines of exercise VE with chemical responses were similar in slope and intercept for both athletes and non-athletes. However, we found that non-athletes had greater exercise VE per unit metabolic rate (VO2 or VCO2), and greater ventilatory responses to O2 and CO2, when compared with endurance athletes at equal relative work loads (P less than 0.05). The lower exercise VE/VCO2 of endurance athletes as compared with non-athletes persisted in hyperoxia, indicating that factors other than differences in hypoxic sensitivity explain the lower exercise VE of endurance athletes. Low exercise VE may be the link between low ventilatory chemosensitivity and outstanding endurance athletic performance.