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Original Published Date: 
Monday, August 16, 2021

Full article issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research.

A fact sheet on peak performance age in sport, released by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), analyses the age at which athletes are competing at their best and how the typical age has changed over time. The study provides insights about how human abilities change with advancing years and how this plays out in the careers of elite athletes as well as for recreational athletes in community sport.

'Athletes in sports requiring speed and power tend to peak by their mid-20s, those in endurance sports peak by their 40s, while those in tactical, low impact sports can still compete at elite level at more advanced ages,' said Rafal Chomik, lead researcher and a CEPAR Senior Research Fellow at The University of New South Wales.

'This is consistent with findings on cognitive capacity: young people are better at tasks requiring raw processing power while older people excel at strategy.'

The latest Olympics have provided ample evidence of these patterns. Analysing the age of Olympians by sports and gender, the study found that athletes in sports relying on speed, flexibility, and maximal oxygen consumption, such as swimming, had the lowest ages, with 23 years for men and 22 for women.

Tactical and precision sports with lower physical loads such as sailing, shooting, and equestrian sports had the oldest ages. The median age for equestrians was 35 for women and 38 for men. The averages were higher still, at 39 and 36.

'Tokyo 2020 has also confirmed longer-term trends: that the typical Olympian is becoming older,' said Rafal Chomik.

Between 1992 and 2021, average ages of male Olympians increased from 25 to 27 and female ages increased from 24 to 26, according to the study.

'We found that older athletes are not just participating, they’re winning medals. Average ages of Olympic competitors broadly coincide with ages of medal winners over time. It’s no surprise then that Australian equestrian, Andrew Hoy, has been able to again win a medal at age 62,' he said.

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Image credit: Pixnio (Public Domain).