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Physiological Characteristics of an Aging Olympic Athlete

Nybo, Lars1; Schmidt, Jakob F.1; Fritzdorf, Stephen2; Nordsborg, Nikolai B.1

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 11 - p 2132–2138
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000331
Applied Sciences

Purpose: To investigate the physiological basis of continued world-class performance of a world-class rower who won medals (three gold and two bronze) at five consecutive Olympic Games.

Methods: From the age of 19 to 40 yr, maximal oxygen uptake (V˙O2max), peak HR, blood lactate, and rowing ergometer performance were assessed annually.

Results: During the first years of his elite career (from age 19 to 24), V˙O2max increased from 5.5 to approximately 5.9 L·min−1 (78 mL·min−1·kg−1) and his average power during 6-min maximal rowing increased from 420 to approximately 460 W. Although his HRmax declined by approximately 20 bpm during the 20-yr period, maximal aerobic power, evaluated both as V˙O2max and 6-min test performance, was maintained until the age of 40. Furthermore, peak lactate levels remained unchanged and average power outputs during 10-s, 60-s, and 60-min ergometer tests were all maintained at approximately 800 W, approximately 700 W, and approximately 350 W, respectively, indicating that he was able to preserve both aerobic and anaerobic exercise performances. Echocardiographic analyses revealed a left ventricular mass of 198 g and left ventricular end-diastolic diameter of 5.8 cm.

Conclusions: This longitudinal case indicates that until the age of 40 yr, a steady increase in the oxygen pulse may have compensated for the significant decline in the maximal heart frequency. Furthermore, the maintenance of aerobic and anaerobic exercise capacities allowed this Olympic athleteto compete at the highest level for almost two decades.

1Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, DENMARK; and 2Team Denmark, House of Sport, Brondby, DENMARK

Address for correspondence: Nikolai B. Nordsborg, Ph.D., Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, Section of Human Physiology, August Krogh Building, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 13, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark; E-mail: nbn@nexs.ku.dk.

Submitted for publication September 2013.

Accepted for publication February 2014.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine