Row for your life: a century of mortality follow-up of French olympic rowers

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 17;9(11):e113362. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113362. eCollection 2014.


Background/aim: Strenuous endurance training required to participate in the highest sports level has been associated with deleterious effects on elite athletes' health and cardiac abnormalities. We aimed to describe overall mortality and main causes of deaths of male French rowers participating in at least one Olympic Game (OG) from 1912 to 2012 in comparison with the French general population.

Methods: Identity information and vital status of French Olympic rowers were validated by National sources from 1912 to 2013 (study's endpoint) among 203 rowers; 52 out of 255 (20.3%) were excluded because their vital statuses could not be confirmed. Main causes of deaths were obtained from the National registry from 1968 up to 2012. Overall and disease-specific mortalities were calculated through standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) with its 95% confidence intervals (CIs). The overall mortality was calculated for the whole rowers' cohort (PT) and for two periods apart: (P1) including rowers from 1912 to 1936 OG, a cohort in which all rowers have deceased and (P2) considering rowers from 1948 to 2012 OG.

Results: Among the 203 rowers analysed, 46 died before the study's endpoint, mainly from neoplasms (33%), cardiovascular diseases (21%) and external causes (18%). PT demonstrates a significant 42% lower overall mortality (SMR: 0.58, 95% CI: 0.43-0.78, p<0.001), P1 a 37% reduction (SMR: 0.63, 95% CI: 0.43-0.89, p = 0.009) and P2 a 60% reduction (SMR: 0.40, 95% CI: 0.23-0.65, p<0.001) compared with their compatriots. Mortality due to cardiovascular diseases is significantly reduced (SMR: 0.41, 95% CI: 0.16-0.84, p = 0.01) among rowers.

Conclusions: French Olympic rowers benefit of lower overall mortality compared with the French general population. Among rowers' main causes of death, cardiovascular diseases are reduced in relation to their compatriots. Analytical studies with larger samples are needed to understand the reasons for such reductions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • France
  • Humans
  • Longevity
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*

Grant support

This work was supported by a grant from the Ministry of Sports, Youth, Popular Education and Community life of France [Project n°12-R-10]. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.