Summer and winter athletes: the best sprinters are born in summer and the best distance runners in the winter

A babies birth date can determine whether they will be a runner or a sprinter!

Many of Britain's top sprinters were born in the summer and, perhaps even more strikingly, most of Britain's best long distance men were born in the winter. That was a discovery that I made some 20 years ago and about which I wrote in Running Magazine in 1983. I did not begin to ascribe any astrological significance to this - and any competent astronomer would tell you that astrology is complete nonsense. However, it did lead me to wonder if there just might be some significance in my findings - perhaps something to do with climatic factors at the time of birth?

I looked at the top men at both 100m and 10,000m to the end of 1982, and noted that of the top 12 at 100m (excluding Trevor Hoyte who was not born in Britain), five were born in May, as were three others just outside that list. Five of the top six men at 10,000 metres as well as the previous UK record holder, Dick Taylor, were born in December/January. I wrote at the time that one could get carried away by what might have been a series of amazing coincidences, but a flight of fancy might lead one to say that if 100m men are born in the height of summer and 10,000m men in the middle of winter, then the middle distance men would be somewhere in the middle. Sure enough: Sebastian Coe was born on September 29, Steve Ovett on October 9, Steve Cram on October 14, Peter Elliott on October 9, David Moorcroft on April 10, Frank Clement on April 26 (all world-class milers). There is plenty of divergence after that, but, wow! the top men certainly fit the pattern.

The top 13 lists at that time showed:

100 metres

Allan Wells 3/5
Ainsley Bennett 22/7
Cameron Sharp 3/6
Peter Radford 20/9
Mike McFarlane 2/5
Brian Green 15/5
Barrie Kelly 2/8
David Jenkins 25/5
Drew McMaster 10/5
Trevor Hoyte 5/1*
Jim Evans 10/4
Ron Jones 19/8
Steve Green 13/10
* born in Trinidad

10,000 metres

Brendan Foster 12/1
David Bedford 30/12
Julian Goater 12/1
David Black 2/10
Mike McLeod 25/1
Ian Stewart 15/1
Tony Simmons 6/10
Bernie Ford 3/8
Geoff Smith 24/10
Adrian Royle 12/2
David Clarke 1/1
Steve Jones 4/8
Nick Rose 30/12

These were a strikingly different set of birth dates, but I noted that the theory did not work so well for the marathon, although there was still a definite winter bias.

UK top 13s at 100m and 10,000m

So, let us revisit the subject - and examine the current situation. Here are the current UK top 13s for these events.

100 metres

Linford Christie 2/4
Dwain Chambers 5/4
Jason Gardener 18/9
Darren Campbell 12/9
Jason Livingston 17/3
Mark Lewis-Francis 4/9
Allan Wells 3/5
Christian Malcolm 3/6
Darren Braithwaite 20/1
Marlon Devonish 1/6
Michael Rosswess 11/6
John Regis 13/10
Ian Mackie 27/2

10,000 metres

Jon Brown 27/2
Eamonn Martin 9/10
Brendan Foster 12/1
David Bedford 30/12
Nick Rose 30/12
Julian Goater 12/1
David Black 2/10
Steve Jones 4/8
Mike McLeod 25/1
Richard Nerurkar 6/1
Ian Stewart 15/1
Tony Simmons 6/10
Bernie Ford 3/8

A quick glance shows that the story remains much the same, with of course a few exceptions, such as Darren Braithwaite at 100m and Steve Jones at 10,000m. But the astonishing fact is that seven of the top 11 at 10,000m were born within a four-week period from December 30 to January 25.

Of course, with the collapse in distance running in the developed world, the list at 10,000m has not changed so much, and is likely to be pretty static in future, as the lack of an endurance base in the current generation of children is reflected in ever-declining distance running standards in Britain (and Finland, Sweden, USA, etc).

But I next looked at the top men who are currently performing, again in order of ranking, from the UK 10,000m all-time list:

Jon Brown (1st) 27/2
Karl Keska (15th) 7/5
Keith Cullen (19th) 13/6
Andrew Jones (27th) 3/2
Rob Denmark (30th) 23/11
Mark Steinle (33rd) 22/11
John Nuttall (37th) 11/1
Glynn Tromans (60th) 17/3
Martin Jones (84th) 21/4
Ian Hudspith (89th) 23/9

Keska and Cullen are summer babies, but there remains a winter bias. One man not mentioned above, but Britain's most successful cross-country runner of the past 20 years, is Tim Hutchings - and he was born on December 4.

British top 10 six-milers to 1962

To test the theory further I thought that I should also look back in time, so I went back 20 years and took the British top 10 for 6 miles/10,000m to 1962:

Roy Fowler 26/3
Mike Bullivant 1/3
Martin Hyman 3/11
Mel Batty 9/4
Bruce Tulloh 28/9
Basil Heatley 28/12
Stan Eldon 1/5
George Knight 12/3
John Merriman 27/6
Gordon Pirie 10/2

This showed nothing like the same mid-winter story, although there were only two born in the summer.
In my original study I only looked at men. So what about the women? Does the birth date theory hold for them? Well, world half-marathon champion Paula Radcliffe was born on December 17 and that fits the bill pretty well, but Liz McColgan was born on May 24, which doesn't at all. However, Kathy Cook, our top sprinter, fits the pattern as she was born on May 3.

Here, then, are the birth dates for the current British women's top 10 at 10,000m:

Paula Radcliffe 17/12
Liz McColgan 24/5
Jill Hunter 14/10
Wendy Sly 5/5
Angela Tooby 24/10
Yvonne Murray 4/10
Kathy Butler 22/10
Susan Tooby 24/10
Andrea Wallace 22/11
Susan Crehan 12/9

All but one appeared in the world between mid-September and mid-December.

Climate may be an influence; sedentary lifestyle certainly is

I am sure that physiological factors, such as the possession of slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres are of much greater importance than birth dates. And then we come to the question of genetic factors, which must surely play some part in determining the physiological profile of an individual.

But in my studies of athletics I have seen that all types of athletes can come from the wide range of racial types, and am concerned that writers such as Jon Entine appear to have written-off the white races for distance running, while ignoring many of the causes of this (PP 158 December 2001.)

I believe that socio-economic factors play a huge part in the fate of the men or women who rise to the top, and the drastic decline in Western distance running is most certainly not caused by genetic factors, but by the fact that our youngsters are much more sedentary than people of 20-30 years earlier, with the result that our top juniors are running very much slower over 3000m and 5000m than they used to.

While the 'hungry fighters' from Africa and other impoverished parts of the world are prepared to sacrifice their creature comforts for the dedicated hard work that is needed to make a top distance runner, fewer from our society are prepared to do so.

But environment is surely important. For instance, distance runners are less likely to develop if living in large towns, and I note that nearly all the top Spanish distance runners in their recent resurgence have come from rural districts, and the East Africans have the added bonus of high altitude.

No distance runners are going to come from the hot and humid countries of West Africa or even perhaps from the drier Caribbean. And just maybe, the climatic factors before or after birth might, as indicated above, make some difference in the temperate climes of Britain.

Peter Matthews

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