Knowledge of the age at which elite athletes achieve peak performance could provide important information for long-term athlete development programmes, event selection and strategic decisions regarding resource allocation.
The objective of this study was to systematically review published estimates of age of peak performance of elite athletes in the twenty-first century.
We searched SPORTDiscus, PubMed and Google Scholar for studies providing estimates of age of peak performance. Here we report estimates as means only for top (international senior) athletes. Estimates were assigned to three event-type categories on the basis of the predominant attributes required for success in the given event (explosive power/sprint, endurance, mixed/skill) and then plotted by event duration for analysis of trends.
For both sexes, linear trends reasonably approximated the relationships between event duration and estimates of age of peak performance for explosive power/sprint events and for endurance events. In explosive power/sprint events, estimates decreased with increasing event duration, ranging from ~27 years (athletics throws, ~1–5 s) to ~20 years (swimming, ~21–245 s). Conversely, estimates for endurance events increased with increasing event duration, ranging from ~20 years (swimming, ~2–15 min) to ~39 years (ultra-distance cycling, ~27–29 h). There was little difference in estimates of peak age for these event types between men and women. Estimations of the age of peak performance for athletes specialising in specific events and of event durations that may best suit talent identification of athletes can be obtained from the equations of the linear trends. There were insufficient data to investigate trends for mixed/skill events.
Differences in the attributes required for success in different sporting events likely contribute to the wide range of peak-performance ages of elite athletes. Understanding the relationships between age of peak competitive performance and event duration should be useful for tracking athlete progression and talent identification.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.