World Athletics president is one of a freakily large number of top middle-distance runners who were born in September or October
Seb Coe is not the only supermiler to celebrate a birthday at this time of year. The World Athletics president hits 66 today (September 29) but he is just one of several top middle-distance runners with an autumnal birthday.
Coe’s old rivals Steve Ovett and Peter Elliott have birthdays on October 9 whereas Steve Cram’s birthday is five days later on October 14.
Other leading British middle-distance runners born in autumn include Tom McKean (1:43.88 for 800m) on October 27, Andy Butchart (13:06.21 for 5000m) on October 14 (same day as Cram), Martin Steele (1:43.84 for 800m) on September 30 and current British 800m international Daniel Rowden (September 9).
Eamonn Martin, the last British man to win the London Marathon, was born on October 10. It does not stop there either. Jack Buckner, John Mayock, Charlie Grice and Anthony Whiteman have autumn birthdays too, whereas Olympic 1500m bronze medallist Josh Kerr was born on October 8.
Then there is the Olympic 1500m champion himself, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who was born on September 19, 2000, whereas Eliud Kipchoge also creeps into the autumnal/early winter period with a November 5 birthday.
The Moroccan world record-breaker from the 1980s, Said Aouita, was born on November 2, whereas the current world 1500m and mile record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj is yet another September/October birthday as he was born on September 14.
Of course there are exceptions such as Mo Farah (March 23), Dave Moorcroft (April 10), Brendan Foster (January 12), Steve Jones (August 4), Dave Bedford (December 30) and reigning world 1500m champion Jake Wightman (July 11). Still, the number of autumn birthdays is eye catching.
The phenomenon is not quite as common on the female side with Kelly Holmes (April 19), Kirsty Wade (August 6), Paula Radcliffe (December 17), Keely Hodgkinson (March 3) and Liz McColgan (May 24), although there are some notable autumnal birthdays like Wendy Sly (November 5), Yvonne Murray (October 4) and Jo Pavey (September 20).
Despite the exceptions, though, there is an unusually large number of leading endurance athletes with autumnal birthdays – and there is an explanation for it.
The theory is that athletes born in autumn will be among the oldest in their year at school. This means they will be more developed than many of their rivals in age-group competitions and, in some cases, almost an entire year older, which is a significant advantage during puberty.
The consequences are that the older and well-developed kids will enjoy more success. They will therefore be more likely to persist with the sport, could end up with more confidence than younger athletes and, crucially, could gain early advantages such as being picked for regional squads and so on.
The benefit of an autumnal birthday is not just in British middle and long distance running either. It has been found to be prominent in football, for example.
A study of English youth academies in 2009, for instance, showed that 57% of players were born in the three-month period from September to December compared to 14% born in the three months from June to August.
Sports scientists have dubbed it the ‘relative age effect’ and it might go a small way to explaining why Coe, Ovett, Cram, Elliott – and even athletes like Ingebrigtsen – rose above their rivals.
Another explanation, of course, relates to astrology, if you believe in it. Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliott all share the same sign of the zodiac – Libra.
Coincidence? Or are their birthdays related to their success?
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