Performance pathways in elite middle- and long-distance track and field athletes: The influence of a successful youth

Paolo Riccardo Brustio, Mattia Stival, Marco Cardinale, Anna Mulasso, Alberto Rainoldi, Gennaro Boccia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review



There is limited information on the performance progression of athletics endurance athletes from junior-to-senior status and the determinants of success in adulthood. This study aimed to quantify the youth-to-senior transition rate, the likelihood of success and the relationship between youth and senior performance amongst world-class athletes competing in middle- and long-distance disciplines.


Retrospective design examining public data between 2000 and 2019.


The performances of 4678 international athletes (45.3 % female) were analysed. World's all-time top 50 athletes were identified for U18 and Senior categories (age ≥ 20 years). Youth-to-senior transition rate and transition probabilities were calculated. Correlations between best U18 and Senior performances were determined to assess the stability of the performance.


The youth-to-senior transition rate for top U18 athletes was low for males and females (~ 19 % and 21 %). Nevertheless, the probability of transition to a top senior was ~ 7 times higher for top U18 athletes than for non-top U18 athletes. The correlations between youth and senior best performances were low-to-high.


Few top U18 athletes maintained top world ranking status during their senior careers. Still, they are more likely to become top senior athletes than those who did not perform at the top level in U18. The association between youth and senior performance is stronger when comparing the same discipline or when athletes competed over longer distances in their senior compared to U18 career. Being a successful youth athlete may represent a small advantage for future success, however, it does not guarantee advancement to the senior top level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Early online date20 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 May 2024
Externally publishedYes

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