Sucec, A. (July, 1996). The effect of moderate altitude on endurance running events in the Mexico Olympics. A paper presented at The 1996 International Pre-Olympic Scientific Congress, Dallas, TX. (Abstract 2007).

The sea-level and altitude performances of 168 runners who competed in events from 800 m to the marathon were compared. Two questions were asked.

  1. What was the difference of performances registered at the 1968 Olympic Games (moderate altitude 2,240 m) and best sea-level time, and
  2. were the performance differences noticeable between athletes who were altitude or sea-level residents.

Before the altitude effect could be assessed, the difference in sea-level Olympic Games and non-Olympic games times was determined by analyzing the marks for 343 runners in the 1964 and 1972 Olympic Games. All marks were verified from two sources and were limited to those listed as a top-100 performer. Results showed that the Olympic Games performances were slower (statistical significance p<.05) than non-Olympic performances for the 1964 and 1972 Olympic Games. These differences were averaged for the two Olympic Games and expressed as a percentage of the non-Olympic Games best performances. This was deemed to be an "Olympic Games effect." The mean differences were 1.2, 1.1, 1.5, 2.1, 1.2, and 4.3% for the .8, 1.5, 3, 5, 10, and 42.2 km events respectively. Thus, the altitude effect was simply the difference between the best Olympic Games performance at altitude and the Olympic Games effect. This effect was subtracted from the absolute differences between 1968 Olympic Games times at altitude and sea-level non-Olympic Games times. The residual was a better indication of the true altitude effect.

The mean performance decrements for the altitude effect were 0.3, 3.6, 5.5, 4.8, 5.3, and 6.2% respectively for the six events listed above. The 800 m was not effected by altitude but the remaining events were.

The times of sea-level residents were affected significantly more than those of altitude residents, which was consistent with their high placings in the 1968 Games.

Implications. These findings support the physiological theory that decrements in running events due to an altitude effect are dependent upon the degree to which they rely upon aerobic energy.

Persons who reside at altitude perform better at altitude than non-residents despite short-term attempts at adaptation.

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