Peaking fast, dying young: bucking the trend of Flo-Jo

The 1988 Olympic sprint champ is the exception to the rule, according to a study that shows early developers tend to age faster

Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner peaked late and died early, but drug cheats often prove to be the exception to the rule, unless they’re the norm like in cycling.

According to new research from a joint Dutch-Danish study, Flo-Jo bucks a trend that tends to see athletes who reach an early high physical performance die earlier. It doesn’t bode well for Wayne Rooney.

More likely to die young
The joint study by the Center for Healthy Ageing at the University of Copenhagen (KU) and the Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing in the Netherlands found that early-peaking athletes had a 17 percent increased mortality compared to athletes who peaked later.

Based on the records of over 1,000 athletes who competed in the Olympics between 1896 and 1936 across 58 different disciplines, the researchers suggest that athletes with biological mechanisms that enable them to peak early – primarily sex and growth hormones – also age faster.

It concludes that early-peaking, high-performing athletes live on average five fewer years than athletes who peak late and do not attain a really high level of performance.

Sport still a healthy option
“We all know athletes can become ill, suffer accidents or even die while they train or compete, but next to these direct costs, our data indicates there are also long-term costs – in terms of lost years of life,” explained one of the researchers, Professor Rudi Westendorp from KU.

However, he cautioned against early-peaking athletes turning their back on sport.

“Sport is healthy, especially if you are slowly and continuously exercising. It seems to be the most successful strategy for a long and healthy life,” he said.

“Remember! It is never too late to start.”