There has long been a debate regarding the importance of talent versus training in athletic performance. In this study we sought to quantify their relative contributions to the race performance of high-school sprinters.
Using race results from the athletic.net website, we identified high-school athletes who participated in at least one race in both 9th and 12th grade in the 100 m, 200 m or 400 m. Athletes with a record of racing before high school were excluded from the analyses. Using separate linear regression models for each event and gender, we analyzed the effect of baseline ability, race experience and training exposure on race time in the 12th grade.
35,909 athletes, running a total of 1,627,652 races, contributed to the final analyses. The proportion of variance (R2) in 12th grade race times accounted for by baseline ability ranged from 40% to 51% depending on the event, and was consistently higher for females than males. Race experience explained 3.6–4.4% of the variance and training exposure explained 0.8–1.7%.
Although race experience and training exposure impact high-school sprinters’ performance, baseline ability is the dominant influence.
Lynch is with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Salt Lake City, UT. Thomas is with the Division of Genetic Epidemiology, and Gibson the Dept. of Biomedical Informatics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT.