The age of Olympians

Jeannie Longo is shown here about 1 km below t...Jeannie Longo, Image via Wikipedia

The Olympics is a gathering of the world’s greatest athletes, but does it have something to tell us regarding general trends?

Sure, two 21 year olds from Jamaica won the men and women 100 meter sprints (traditionally sprinters peak at around 25): youth was served, but is there any hope for older athletes?


38 year old Constantina Tomescu from Romania won the women’s marathon. The previous oldest women to win the Olympic marathon was 30 (oldest man to win was 37).

33 year old Oksana Chusovitina won the silver medal in women’s vault in gymnastics. Gymnastics is dominated by women in their teens, if you in your early 20s you are considered old. For a 33 year old to compete at the Olympic level, not to mention win a silver is stunning. There is also a heart warming story regarding her son’s leukemia (they moved to Germany so her son could be treated, and she now competes for Germany).

41 year old Dara Torres in her 5th Olympics is swimming faster than she ever has (the new suits help a bit) and won a silver in the 50 m freestyle sprint in Beijing. She lost by 1/100 of a second and the silver she won is her best ever showing in an individual event at the Olympics. She won another silver in a relay event.

49 year old Jeannie Longo from France is a bicycling legend and competed in her 7th Olympics in which she finished 4th in the time trial event only 2 seconds out of the bronze (in an event that took 34 minutes – so 2 seconds is a very small margin). She also placed 24th in the road race bicycling event.

Beyond athletes excelling at their chosen sport, hopefully us mere mortals can gain a greater perspective of the possibilities. If these mature athletes can compete at the the highest world class levels then surely we have no excuse for not indulging in bodily pursuits because we think we are too old.

This is also a wake up call for the ‘younger’ crowd. I have heard late 20 year olds saying they are too old to run, hike up a mountain, sprint – or whatever. You need to keep moving for if you stop you will pay a cost (see my linked pieces below).

As I previously covered, exercise into your old age has many benefits including greater survival rate and more functional ability (see here and here).

Don’t use age as an excuse – get out there.

2 comments for “The age of Olympians

  1. CC
    August 19, 2008 at 12:05 am

    All examples listed are women.
    Are men doing worse (compared to older women) when they get old?

  2. JB
    August 19, 2008 at 10:47 am

    good point. but Simon Whitfield at 33 just came through with silver in the triathlon!