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.
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.
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%.
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.