Understanding the origins of Canadian Olympic performance: Geographic constraints on the acquisition of sport expertise


Over the last ten years, there has been significant research devoted to how size of one's birthplace affects likelihood of becoming an elite athlete based on the assumption that access to early resources can impede opportunities for skill development. Despite this attention, our understanding of how geographical factors constrain or facilitate skill development is far from complete. For instance, all prior work in this area has used National level analyses, which may not capture the nuances of development across a nation. In this study, we examined geographical variables among Canadian Olympians to understand their relationship with Olympic athlete development. For this analysis, birth province and size of birthplace were collected for 1144 Canadian summer Olympic athletes and compared to data from age-matched cohorts from the Canadian census. Results indicated significant differences between provinces/territories and birthplace sizes for athletes compared to the general population. More specifically, a) British Columbia had an over-representation of summer Olympic athletes compared to other provinces/territories and b) athletes coming from smaller regions (<10,000) were significantly under-represented compared to the general population while those coming from larger areas (> 30,000) were significantly over-represented. These findings continue to highlight the significance of geographical factors in understanding sport skill acquisition and athlete development. Furthermore, when considered relative to previous work, our results highlight potential limitations of National-level analyses for understanding these effects and suggest several areas for future work (e.g., the influence of provincial talent pathways and location of national training centres).

Acknowledgments: This research was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada