The recent 2017 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia generated a lot of discussion about the ages of Masters Champions and the role golf’s young guns have on the game. Prior to the Masters, speculation centered on who might win this year’s tournament as the last two champions and three of the previous six were in their twenties.
The ages of Masters Champions appear to go in cycles as illustrated in the accompanying graph. Since 1934 there have been four periods where the average age of Masters champions rose above the long term average, which is 32.6 years, and three periods where it declined. This prompted us to think about fencing and the impact of age on the performance of the sport’s elite athletes.
Age & Excellence
The constraining factor for a number of sports, particularly sports in which flexibility and strength are required, is age. However, both experience and skill are typically gained after years of practice, so it is generally thought that older athletes may be more successful in performing sports where these aspects prevail. Since little information has been published in recent times about the impact of age on success across the different gender-weapons categories in fencing, we conducted two statistical studies to establish whether any relationship exists between age and excellence in the six gender weapon categories, namely men’s epee, men’s foil, men’s saber, women’s epee, women’s foil and women’s saber:
- USFA National Fencing Champions 1997-2016, and
- Senior World Fencing Champions (1920-2015) and Olympians (1896-2016).
The relationship between age and USFA national fencing champions for the past twenty years is addressed in this post. Results from the second study will be posted in the next few weeks.
Data used in the analysis is derived from the USFA and International Fencing Federation (FIE) websites. The individual champions for which date-of-birth data was derived are listed in the table at the end of the post. Data is available for the 20 year period, 1997-2016 for all weapons except women’s saber which had its first Division 1 championship in 1998.
For the statisticians, the significance of differences between the mean age of each gender-weapon group was analyzed using a one-way ANOVA technique (Analysis of Variance), whereas the relationship between the age of champions and the year of success was assessed using Spearman rank correlation. The interquartile range, (IQR) represents the range from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile, or middle 50% of a data set. The IQR can be more effective that the average because it shows the dispersion range, in this case, in years, rather than just one number.
The average age of men champions in the past 20 years was significantly different, with that of epee champions (27.8 years, IQR 24.3-29.8 years) being always greater than that of men’s foil champions (20.9 years, IQR 18.0-23.0 years) and men’s saber champions (23.8 years, IQR 20.0-26.6 years). The only difference not reaching statistical significance was that between men’s foil and men’s saber champions.
There was no statistically significant difference between women’s epee champions (21.3 years, IQR 17.9-24.8 years), women’s foil champions (21.2 years, IQR 19.2-23.8 years) and women’s saber champions (21.5 years, IQR 17.8-23.3 years) as illustrated in the accompanying table.
The Age and Interquartile Range of USA Fencing Division 1 National Champions 1997-2016
|Men's Epee||Men's Foil||Men's Saber||Women's Epee||Women's Foil||Women's Saber|
The distribution of ages for each gender-weapon category is highlighted in the box-and-whisker plots below. It shows the significant difference in the average age of men’s epee champions and the similarity of ages for the other gender-weapon categories. Each gender-weapon has a box-and-whisker plot, the height of which represents the numerical range of years (minimum and maximum values). The “boxes” represent the 25th through the 75th percentile. This type of chart enables the reader to make quick comparisons among the different gender-weapons categories.
This graph tells us that the range of ages for men’s epee have been quite large, extending from 17.6 years on the low end to 52 years on the high end. Scrolling over the box-and-whisker plot for Men’s Epee highlights the data set: Men’s Epee 17.6-52, 24.3-29.8 The middle half (mid-spread) of fencers ages were between 24.3 and 29.8 years. The graph also illustrates the similarity in ages between the women’s groups.
Interestingly, a rather different trend was noticed when the age of champions of the different weapons were plotted against time. Specifically, a statistically significant and positive correlation was found between the age of men’s saber champions and time with a Spearman rho of 0.5143 and a P-value of 0.0203. In all other gender-weapons, no association was found between the age of champions and time.
For a point of comparison, the median age of Formula 1 championship winners over a 65 year period (1950-2014) was 31 years, IQR 28-34 years, Tour de France winners (28 years, IQR 27-30 years), alpine ski world cup winners (25 years, IQR 23-28 years) and Wimbledon winners (24 years, IQR 22-27 years)¹. Other researchers have found that the mean age of peak performance for Olympic track and field was 26 years and for swimming, 21 years. Interestingly, the age of performance peak of grandmaster chess players was much higher at 31 years, giving credence to the existence of certain performance gain with ageing in those sports requiring skill and ability.
The results of this analysis attest to the fact that the age of USFA Division 1 men’s epee champions are significantly different (older) that either men’s foil or men’s saber champions. In addition, the age of saber champions has grown over the past 20 years. In all other gender-weapon categories there was no association between age and time.
USA Fencing Division 1 National Champions 1997-2016
|Men's Epee||Men's Foil||Men's Saber||Women's Epee||Women's Foil||Women's Saber|
|2016||Jack Bradford||Thomas Dudey||Jeff Spear||Francesca Bassa||Margaret Lu||Kamali Thompson|
|2015||Jason Pryor||Sam Moelis||Jeff Spear||Kelley Hurley||Margaret Lu||Sage Palmedo|
|2014||Yeisser Ramirez||Race Imboden||Eli Dershwitz||Margherita Guzzi Vincenti||Margaret Lu||Celina Merza|
|2013||Alexander Tsinis||Miles Chamley-Watson||Aleksander Ochocki||Kelley Hurley||Nzingha Prescod||Eliza Stone|
|2012||Alexander Tsinis||Gerek Meinhardt||James Williams||Courtney Hurley||Doris Willette||Francesca Russo|
|2011||Soren Thompson||Race Imboden||Timothy Morehouse||Courtney Hurley||Margaret Lu||Daria Schneider|
|2010||Weston S. Kelsey||Alexander Massialas||Timothy Morehouse||Courtney Hurley||Margaret Lu||Emily Jacobson|
|2009||Benjamin Ungar||David Willette||Bryan Cheney||Susannah Scanlan||Lee Kiefer||Ibtihaj Muhammad|
|2008||Weston S. Kelsey||Gerek Meinhardt||Ivan Lee||Courtney Hurley||Erinn Smart||Rebecca Ward|
|2007||Cody M. Mattern||Gerek Meinhardt||Timothy Hagamen||Courtney Hurley||Erinn Smart||Rebecca Ward|
|2006||Weston S. Kelsey||Andras Horanyi||Ivan Lee||Kelley Hurley||Emily Cross||Sada Jacobson|
|2005||Benjamin J. Solomon||Jed Dupree||Ivan Lee||Maya Lawrence||Hanna Thompson||Rebecca Ward|
|2004||Cody M. Mattern||Dan Kellner||Keeth Smart||Kelley Hurley||Erinn Smart||Sada Jacobson|
|2003||John A. Moreau||Jon Tiomkin||Ivan Lee||Stephanie Eim||Iris Zimmerman||Christine Becker|
|2002||Weston S. Kelsey||Jed Dupree||Keeth Smart||Kerry Walton||Erinn Smart||Caitlin Thompson|
|2001||Eric J. Hansen||Sean McClain||Ivan Lee||Julia Leszko||Iris Zimmerman||Sada Jacobson|
|2000||Chris O'Loughlin||Cliff Bayer||Akhnaten Spencer-El||Stephanie Eim||Felicia Zimmerman||Christina Crane|
|1999||Tamir Bloom||Jon Tiomkin||Akhnaten Spencer-El||Arlene Stevens||Felicia Zimmerman||Nicole Mustilli|
|1998||Tamir Bloom||Cliff Bayer||Patrick Durkan||Arlene Stevens||Erinn Smart||Kelly Williams|
|1997||Jon Normile||Cliff Bayer||Terrence Lasker||Jessica Burke||Iris Zimmerman|
¹ Sanchis-Gomar F, Matiuzzi C, Lippi G. The age of the champion as a major determinant of (personalized) performance in different sports disciplines. J Lab Precis Med 2017; 2:6.