Gennaro Apollaro & Bruno Ruscello.
Objective: The age of peak competitive performance may vary between athletes in different sports and events, depending on the specific skills and attributes required for success in a particular event. In sports such as track & field, the age of peak performance is determined by personal record performances where performance measurement is based on centimetres or seconds.
On the contrary, as recently highlighted (4), in combat sports the World Championships and Olympic Games are considered the two most important indicators of professional success for athletes, since there is no measurement used to establish world record performances. Although some studies have investigated the profiles and the effect of relative age of Olympic taekwondo athletes, no previous study has investigated the age at which taekwondo athletes competed in the Olympic Games, considering all editions of participation, competitive achievement and weight category.
In line with the above, the objectives of the present study were 1) to examine the age at which taekwondo athletes competed in the Olympic Games, 2) to compare the age of taekwondo athletes who won medals, placed 5th/7th and were defeated in the eliminatory phases, 3) to compare the age of taekwondo athletes in different weight categories, 4) to monitor taekwondo athletes who have taken part in multiple editions of the Olympic Games for changes in weight category over time and 5) to examine whether there was a change in the age category distribution over the period of taekwondo’s participation in the Olympic Games.
Results: Female athletes, with a mean age of 23.8 ± 4.1 years, are significantly younger (p=0.001) than their male counterparts, with a mean age of 25.1 ± 3.9 years. In weight category, lighter athletes being younger than heavier ones in both females (22.7 ± 3.7 vs 24.5 ± 4.2 yrs., p=0.04) and males (23.6 ± 3.8 vs 26.7 ± 3.8 yrs., p=0.001; 24.2 ± 3.5 vs 26.7 ± 3.8 yrs., p=0.001).
When an athlete reaches Olympic competition several times, he/she generally competes in the same weight category (p=0.001) and takes part in two consecutive editions (p=0.001). Heavier athletes have greater longevity at Olympic level than lighter athletes (p=0.002).
Conclusions: The present study is the first to investigate the age at which taekwondo athletes competed in the Olympic Games and the first to provide initial insights into weight category changes over time. Female taekwondo athletes, with a mean age of 23.8 ± 4.1 years, are significantly younger than their male counterparts, with a mean age of 25.1 ± 3.9 years. Regardless of gender, no difference in age was found between all editions of participation, in the final classification and no significant change occurred in the different age categories.
The main results concerned the weight category where, generally, lighter athletes are younger than heavier ones. When a taekwondo athlete reaches the Olympic competition several times in his career, he/she generally competes in the same weight category and takes part in two consecutive editions. Athletes in the lighter categories seem to have more difficulty in reaching Olympic competition more than twice in their career.
In contrast, double participation in two Olympic four-year terms and three or more consecutive participations seem to be more characteristic of athletes competing in the heavier categories. This twofold aspect could provide more justification for the fact that lighter athletes are generally younger than heavier athletes in the Olympic taekwondo population.
The current data derived from the study of all taekwondo participations in the Olympic Games not only provides additional knowledge about this increasingly popular combat sport, but also important information for national federations engaged at the highest level in the selection of athletes and long-term development processes for Olympic competitions.
The Next article about Tokio.