Effects of Altitude on Performance of Elite Track-and-Field Athletes

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose:

Lower barometric air pressure at altitude can affect competitive performance of athletes in some sports. Reported here are the effects of various altitudes on elite track-and-field athletes’ performance.

Methods:

Lifetime track-and-field performances of athletes placed in the top 16 in at least 1 major international competition between 2000 and 2009 were downloaded from the database at tilastopaja.org. There were 132,104 performances of 1889 athletes at 794 venues. Performances were logtransformed and analyzed using a mixed linear model with fixed effects for 6 levels of altitude and random quadratic effects to adjust for athlete age.

Results:

Men’s and women’s sprint events (100–400 m) showed marginal improvements of ~0.2% at altitudes of 500–999 m, and above 1500 m all but the 100- and 110-m hurdles showed substantial improvements of 0.3–0.7%. Some middle- and long-distance events (800–10,000 m) showed marginal impairments at altitudes above 150 m, but above 1000 m the impairments increased dramatically to ~2–4% for events >800 m. There was no consistent trend in the effects of altitude on field events up to 1000 m; above 1000 m, hammer throw showed a marginal improvement of ~1% and discus was impaired by 1–2%. Above 1500 m, triple jump and long jump showed marginal improvements of ~1%.

Conclusions:

In middle- and long-distance runners, altitudes as low as 150 to 299 m can impair performance. Higher altitudes (≥1000 m) are generally required before decreases in discus performance or enhancements in sprinting, triple and long jump, or hammer throw are seen.

Hamlin is with the Dept of Tourism, Sport and Society, Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand. Hopkins and Hollings are with the Sport Performance Research Inst New Zealand, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand.

Address author correspondence to Michael Hamlin at mike.hamlin@lincoln.ac.nz.