Want to give birth to an Olympian?

Mo Farah

Want to increase the chance of giving birth to a future Olympian? Well a curious statistic has emerged in this morning's papers suggesting future parents should aim to give birth on 23 March.

Searching through the birthdays of the pantheon of British gold medallists shows the date cropping up time and again.

It is a birthday shared by distance runner Mo Farah, cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny and the rower Sir Steve Redgrave.

The first man to run a sub-four-minute mile, Roger Bannister, was also born on 23 March.

However, statistics can be deceptive. You need to put just 23 people in a room to have a 50-50 chance of a shared birthday.

And yet there are some suggestions that when you are born can have a big impact on later success.

One idea is the relative age effect. Sorting children into school years inevitably means there is nearly a 12-month gap between the oldest and youngest in each year.

When it comes to sport there will be a physical advantage to the older children whether they are sorted from September to August or January to December.

An analysis of young footballers in Europe showed more than 43% of players were born in the first three months of the 'sporting year' while fewer than 10% were born in the last quarter.

That study by Liverpool John Moores University and KU Leuven, in Belgium, said: "Players born earlier in the selection year will probably experience more success than those born later in the year because of their physical advantage."

They suggest these more successful young sportsmen and women are more likely to enjoy their sport, be more motivated to practise and go on to reach the top of the profession.

Another study by Loughborough University said the relative age effect "critically influences" sporting success.

"The relative age effect is as strong as ever in football, and can also be seen in senior cricket and rugby union players.

"It is also evident in junior and senior track and field athletes," the report said.

Dates are clearly not everything. The most decorated Olympian of all time, the US swimmer Michael Phelps, is a child of June. Team GB's Victoria Pendleton was born in September.

But if you want to aim for 23 March, you have already missed the boat for this year and will have to try again come the end of June 2013.