Paths-to-Rio: A longitudinal case study

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2015 - 2019
Project owner
Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg, Research environment: SCoPE

Centrum för idrottsforskning, Adlerbertska Forskningsstiftelsen

Short description

Paths-to-Rio is a prospective research project in Olympic and non-Olympic sports. The aim of the 1-year long study was to advance knowledge on how athletes, who are preparing for a major competition such as the Olympic Games or World Championships, navigate health and health behaviour in this decisive career phase.

About the Paths-to-Rio study

One of the greatest dreams of a high-performance athlete is to take part in the Olympic Games or a World Championships. Having a real chance to participate is exciting and extremely motivating. However, it also means intensive training, on-going qualifications, sacrifices and living with high expectations and insecurity.

The Paths-to Rio study aimed to understand how athletes navigate health experiences and health behaviours during such a critical career phase. Therefore the research team accompanied twelve athletes from four different Olympic and one non-Olympic sport during their preparation time to qualifying for the event. The study results are valuable for athletes, coaches and stakeholders in their pursuit of ensuring athlete health, enhancing performance and developing sustainable sporting careers. Findings have been presented at national and international conferences, in coach and athlete education and in published journal format (*link to research output under Dokument*).

Design and Methods

The research team adapted a prospective case study design to accompany individual athletes over the course of a year encompassing the competition they were trying to qualify for (Olympic Games or World Championships). All recruited athletes, regardless of being able to qualify or not, were invited to complete the entire study.

Sample: Elite athletes were recruited, who intended to and had a real chance of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio or a 2016 World Championship in a non-Olympic sport. The sampled athletes varied in sport discipline, gender and place of living and/or training.

Data collection: For each participating athlete, data was collected through:

  • Three semi-structured interviews (1: autumn 2015; 2: spring 2016; 3: autumn 2016);
  • A weekly online survey with twelve standardized questions on training, competition, well-being and health behaviour;
  • Contextual information on athletes’ training situation, participation in competitions and performance.

Data analysis: We used individual case portfolios to identify key themes and career dynamics. Cases were compared to identify personal, social and career-related factors, which influence athletes’ performance and health behaviour when preparing for a major competition (Schubring et al., 2019).



Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Pettersson, S., Post, A. (2020).  The Olympic Games: Dream-come-true or a precarious career phase? [Nordic sport science forum]


Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Pettersson, S., Post, A. (2020). Riskfylld resa mot OS kräver rätt stöd. Retrieved from


Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Post, A., & Pettersson, S. (2019). Researching health behaviour in ‘real time’: Methodological insights from a prospective study on Olympic hopefuls. Methodological Innovations.


Barker-Ruchti, N., Schubring, A., Post, A. & Pettersson, S. (2019) An elite athlete’s storying of injuries and non-qualification for an Olympic Games: a socio-narratological case study. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health.


Schubring (2017) Popular science summary project P2015-0081. Stockholm: Centrum för Idrottsforskning.


Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Post, A. & Pettersson, S. (2018). Challenges and possibilities of prospective research in elite sport: Insights from the ‘Paths to Rio Study’. World Congress of Sociology of Sport. June 5-8, 2018 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Post, A. & Pettersson, S. (2017). Understanding elite sport risk behaviour from a career perspective: A prospective case study with Olympic hopefuls. Nordic Sport Science Conference. 22–23 November, Halmstad, Sweden.

Barker-Ruchti, N., Schubring, A., Post, A., & Pettersson, S. (June, 2017). "They think that high qualification limits make us perform better, but they push us too hard": An athlete’s story of non-qualification for the Rio Olympic Games. 2017 World Congress of Sociology of Sport (ISSA). 30th of May – 2nd of June 2017 in Taoyuan, Taiwan.

Schubring, A., Barker-Ruchti, N., Post, A., & Pettersson, S. (2016). "It has always been my dream": Elite athletes' experiences of the pre-competition phase. 13th conference of the European Association for Sociology of Sport (EASS). 4-7 May 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark.


  • Natalie Barker-Ruchti
  • Stefan Pettersson
  • Anna Post
  • Astrid Schubring