Background: The research in taekwondo on extremely topical issues, such as the influence of athletes’ growth and maturation on selection and development processes at the highest level, as well as the relationship between age and the most important sporting competitions is relatively lacking when compared to other sporting contexts.

Both areas provide valuable information regarding the individual development of the athlete as well as the social-cultural influence on his/her formation. The first area leads to the phenomenon known as the relative age effect (RAE). RAE indicates an over-representation of athletes born at the beginning of the selection year within youth sports competitions, using the common practice of grouping athletes into bi(annual) age categories.

Regarding the age of peak competitive performance, it can be said that it is specific to the sporting context, as it is influenced by the skills and attributes required for success in a particular event. In combat sports, since performance cannot be quantified in seconds or centimetres, the WC and the OG can be considered the two most important indicators of peak performance.

Objective: Therefore, the main objective of this study is to explore the relative and chronological age of successful athletes at the World Taekwondo Championships, from 1997 to the 2019 edition, to provide important information about this competition that will celebrate 50 years of history with the 2023 edition. Specifically, (1) to investigate the relative age effect among world medal winners, by overall sample, gender, Olympic 4-year period and Olympic weight category; (2) to examine the chronological age at which taekwondo athletes win medals at the World Championships, to compare it by gender, Olympic 4-year period and Olympic weight category, to check whether there was a change in the age category distribution over the Olympic 4-year periods; (3) to study multiple world medallists to monitor changes in weight categories and wins over time.


The observed birth quartile distribution for the heavyweight category was significantly skewed (p = 0.01). Female athletes (22.2 ± 3.5 years) achieve success at a significantly younger age (p = 0.01) than their male counterparts (23.6 ± 3.3 years). In the weight categories, female flyweights were significantly younger than those welterweights (p = 0.03) and heavyweight (p = 0.01); female featherweights were significantly younger than those heavyweights (p = 0.03). Male flyweights and featherweights were significantly younger than those welterweights and heavyweights (p = 0.01). When a taekwondo athlete won a medal several times, he/she did so within the same Olympic weight category group and won two medals in his/her career (p = 0.01). Multiple medallists of the lighter and heavier groups did not differ in the number of medals won but in the time span in which they won medals (p = 0.02).


  • Female athletes achieve success at the World Taekwondo Championships at a younger age than their male counterparts. An increasing age trend has emerged in the female world medallists over the last two decades.
  • The age differences between the lightest and heaviest medallists, in combination with the differences between multiple medallists in these groups in the time span of their wins, add insights into longevity at the highest level.
  • The study of the relative age effect in this population highlights the need to continue to investigate this phenomenon in taekwondo to clarify the influence of growth and maturation on selection and development processes at the highest level.

Taekwondo will be one of the core sports in the next Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and the World Taekwondo Championship will celebrate 50 years of history with the 2023 edition. The resources deployed by stakeholders to achieve success in these competitions highlight an extremely competitive environment. In this sense, the information provided by this study can be relevant and translated into key elements.

Gennaro Apollaro, Yarisel Quiñones Rodríguez, Tomás Herrera-Valenzuela, Antonio Hernández-Mendo and Coral Falcó

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