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Who’s the mystery man with the 90.6 VO2max?

March 30th, 2011

Interesting riddle posed by a case report in the European Journal of Applied Physiology (third post from that journal this week — I need to check it more often!): who is the mystery cross-country skier who appear to have one of the highest VO2max readings ever recorded, at 90.6 ml/min/kg?

Here are the clues:

  • The test was performed at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
  • The subject was “a young elite cross country skier,” male, 22 years old.
  • The test took place 4 years before the skier won an Olympic gold medal.

Austria didn’t have any gold medalists in XC skiing in 2010 (and none of the winners are the right age anyway). Same with 2006. They had a gold medalist in 2002 (Christian Hoffmann), but he’s two years too old. They did win the 2006 men’s team event in Nordic combined, and one of the team members — Michael Gruber — would have been 22 years old in 2002, four years earlier. But come on… are you telling me that the man with one of the highest VO2max readings in history was a part-time ski-jumper?! If so, that’s a pretty good reminder that VO2max isn’t everything…

So what is the ultimate highest value? The paper notes an “anecdotal report” in a 2003 textbook by Astrand of someone testing 94 ml/min/kg (anyone know who that was?). They also discuss some measurements on cyclists in the 1990s by Randy Wilber (who is a co-author of this paper) at the US Olympic Training Center. The 1997 paper they cite is a comparison of 10 mountain bikers with 10 members of the US Cycling Federation National Road Team, but they also cite some unpublished data on “American elite male road cyclists who had won individual stages (and the General Classification) of the Tour de France.” There aren’t many of the latter around, are there? Anyway, a few of these cyclists tested at over 80 ml/kg/min at 1860 metres, which they argue equates to 85-86 at sea level, and roughly comparable to about 90-91 if they were doing arm-and-leg exercise (like skiing) rather than just leg exercise (cycling).

But that’s a lot of approximations. I’ve never seen a peer-reviewed report over 90 until this one. Anyone else?