Maximal Aerobic Capacity in the Winter-Olympics Endurance Disciplines: Olympic-Medal Benchmarks for the Time Period 1990–2013

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose:

To generate updated Olympic-medal benchmarks for V̇O2max in winter endurance disciplines, examine possible differences in V̇O2max between medalists and nonmedalists, and calculate gender difference in V̇O2max based on a homogeneous subset of world-leading endurance athletes.

Methods:

The authors identified 111 athletes who participated in winter Olympic Games/World Championships in the period 1990 to 2013. All identified athletes tested V̇O2max at the Norwegian Olympic Training Center within ±1 y of their championship performance. Testing procedures were consistent throughout the entire period.

Results:

For medal-winning athletes, the following relative V̇O2max values (mean:95% confidence intervals) for men/women were observed (mL · min–1 · kg–1): 84:87-81/72:77-68 for cross-country distance skiing, 78:81-75/68:73-64 for cross-country sprint skiing, 81:84-78/67:73-61 for biathlon, and 77:80-75 for Nordic combined (men only). Similar benchmarks for absolute V̇O2max (L/min) in male/female athletes are 6.4:6.1-6.7/4.3:4.1-4.5 for cross-country distance skiers, 6.3:5.8-6.8/4.0:3.7-4.3 for cross-country sprint skiers, 6.2:5.7-6.4/4.0:3.7-4.3 for biathletes, and 5.3:5.0-5.5 for Nordic combined (men only). The difference in relative V̇O2max between medalists and nonmedalists was large for Nordic combined, moderate for cross-country distance and biathlon, and small/trivial for the other disciplines. Corresponding differences in absolute V̇O2max were small/trivial for all disciplines. Male cross-country medalists achieve 15% higher relative V̇O2max than corresponding women.

Conclusions:

This study provides updated benchmark V̇O2max values for Olympic-medal-level performance in winter endurance disciplines and can serve as a guideline of the requirements for future elite athletes.

Tønnessen, Haugen, Hem, and Leirstein are with the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, Oslo, Norway. Seiler is with the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway.

Address author correspondence to Espen Tønnessen at espen.tonnessen@olympiatoppen.no.