07/25/2012 05:27 EDT

Olympic Athlete Ages: What Is The 'Peak' Age To Be An Athlete?


If you're thinking about joining your country's Olympics team anytime soon, you're better off signing a contract before you hit 20.

According to a study by a team of researchers at the Institute of Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiologyin France, the peak age or 'best' age of performance for athletes in track and field, swimming and even chess is 26.1.

"It is an average value, and some events have their age peak performance later than others. In 100 metres running for example, it's 25.4 years of age for men and 26.6 for women, while marathon runners are over 27 years old," says Geoffroy Berthelot, researcher and lead author of the study told The Huffington Post Canada.

Berthelot's and his team's researchers gathered data from careers of elite athletes in each sport. The team chose running and swimming, sports with a reliance on physical strength, against a sport like chess, which doesn't involve as much muscle movement.

"We were surprised by the results. The shape of the pattern was the same in all studied events, including chess," he says.

Knowing which age you're most likely to perform the best can also help you plan your training program.

"The [peak] age also permits the athlete and coach to assess personal strengths and weaknesses and gives time for concrete action to be taken," according to Frank Horwill in an article for

But peaks shouldn't be a burden for athletes -- instead they should be a tipping point to reassess a healthy lifestyle. "Athletes can train at any age to maintain fitness, compete in master championships, and increase their life expectancy," Berthelot says.

Debate around Olympic age entry has been going on for years, including controversy over ages of gymnasts during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This year, the youngest competitors include 15-year-old gymnasts from the U.K and a 16-year-old runner from Fiji.

Here are some of the youngest athletes who probably haven't even reached their peak years yet:

Photo gallery Youngest Athletes In The 2012 London Olympics See Gallery