Elite national athletes reach their peak performance later than non-elite in sprints and throwing events

Published:August 22, 2018DOI:



      The aim of this study was to describe and analyse the performance career trajectories for Italian athletes that participated in sprint, hurdles, discus throw, and shot-put athletics events.


      Retrospective study, data collected between 1994 and 2014.


      A total of 5929 athletes (female: n = 2977, 50.2%) were included in the study. The age of entering competition and personal best performance was identified in the official competition records. Personal best performances were ranked in percentiles and top-level athletes were considered those in the highest 4% of the performance distribution.


      Overall, when controlling for the age of entering competition, top-level athletes reached their personal best later (i.e., around 23–25 years old) for all events compared to the rest of the athletes. Moreover, regression analysis showed that entering competitions later was linked to better performances during adulthood. Also, only 17%–26% [90% CI] of the top-level adult athletes were considered as such when they were 14–17 years old.


      Together, these findings suggest that early sport success is not a strong predictor of top-level performance at senior level. Entering sport-specific competitions later and lengthening the sports career at beyond 23–25 years of age may be important factors to reach top-level performance in sprint and throwing events.


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