Relative Age Influences Performance of World-Class Track and Field Athletes Even in the Adulthood

The relative age effect (RAE) is a common phenomenon observed in youth sports and is characterized by a significant over-representation of athletes born close to the date of selection. However, there is a lack of research on RAE in world-class track and field athletes and it is not clear if this effect persists into adulthood. Thus, this study examined for the first time the prevalence and magnitude of RAE at world class level in all track and field disciplines. Birthdates of 39,590 athletes (51.6% females) ranked in the International Association of Athletics Federations top 100 official lists between 2007 and 2018 season of Under 18, Under 20, and Senior categories were collected. Under 18 and Under 20 athletes born in the first week of the year are about 2 to 3.5 times more likely to be included in the top-100 ranking than the athletes born in the last week of the year. RAE was overall larger in male compared to female athletes. In some disciplines (e.g., throwing events) RAE persists in Senior category. These findings suggest that in some disciplines relatively younger athletes may have less chances of reaching world-class performances even in the adulthood. Governing bodies should reflect upon their policies for athlete support and selection to minimize the RAE.

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