To assess the effect of long-term athletic training on the heart, 104 professional cyclists and 40 sedentary controls (69 younger cyclists and 26 controls aged 20 to 39 and 35 older cyclists and 14 controls aged 40 to 60) were examined by using M-mode and pulsed Doppler echocardiography. Cyclists had larger and more hypertrophied left ventricle than did controls (p < 0.001) and had normal percentages of fractional shortening (%FS). The ratio of left ventricular late-to-early diastolic peak filling velocity (A/R) of younger cyclists was normal, but the A/R of older cyclists was larger than that of controls (p < 0.001). Of the 104 cyclists, 95 continued cycling and were reexamined 2 years later; 9 of 40 older cyclists retired and were reexamined 20 +/- 8 months after retirement. During the follow-up period for the active cyclists, left ventricular dilatation, hypertrophy, and %FS of both younger and older cyclists and the A/R of younger cyclists did not change. However, the A/R of older cyclists increased (p < 0.01). For the nine retired cyclists, left ventricular dimension decreased (p < 0.001), left ventricular wall thickness and %FS did not change, and A/R increased (p < 0.05) after retirement. We concluded that (1) cyclists had large and hypertrophied left ventricles with normal systolic function, and (2) some cyclists with long-term athletic training may have partly irreversible left ventricular hypertrophy with impaired left ventricular diastolic filling.