I’m not the only one enjoying the fact that there are so many older people competing in the Olympics this time. In fact, I’ve had continuous big-time interest in my blog of a couple of weeks ago about Dara Torres, the 41 year-old swimmer. I’m not sure the buzz is only about her age: there’s also the fact that she has an infant and, more likely, the appeal of her rather astounding body.
But when I started digging, I found all sorts of Olympic athletes of a certain age. Here are some thumbnail portraits of eight participants who have confounded the age assumptions about sport.
Luan Jujie, 50: Luan won her gold medal in fencing in 1984 as part of the first Chinese delegation to the summer Olympics. In 1989 she emigrated to Canada and this year, because it is in her homeland, she is in Beijing representing Canada. She continues to be a heroic figure in China, where she is called “Asia’s First Foil.” She is excited about being back in China and not just because they made a movie about her and put out a 2006 stamp with her face. Age isn’t an issue, she says. “Some people think I'm too old but that just means I have nothing to lose… China has developed so fast, I wanted to come back and say how thankful I was for everything." Unfortunately, Luan was eliminated in her second round match.
Susan Nattrass, 57: Nattrass was, in 1976, the first female shooter in Olympic history. This week, at her sixth Olympics, she was eliminated during the final qualifying round for trap shooting. She remains quite a big deal in the Canadian sports world. In Beijing she explained her elimination: “I probably started trying too hard,'' she said. “It's hard when it's probably my last Olympics.”
And then there are all the older horse riders:
What happens when you have an event in which women and men of all ages compete together? You get women and men of all ages, including Boomers and beyond. Here are some outstanding examples.
Hiroshi Hoketsu, 67: The oldest competitor in Beijing is Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu. He still weighs the same 62 kilos (137 pounds) as in his first Olympic games in Tokyo, 1964. He told one journalist, “I don’t feel comfortable being fussed about just because of my age.”
Ian Millar, 61, is a Canadian Show jumper riding in his ninth Olympics – it would’ve been tenth except for the boycott of Moscow. His first was Munich in 1972. Known at home as Captain Canada, he is considered the world's most successful show jumper. He attributes his success to his ability to adapt to changes in his sport. "It applies to so many endeavours in life to include our sport of show jumping. You better be willing to evolve."
Mark Todd, 52, returns for his sixth Olympics after being named Rider of the 20th Century by the International Equestrian Federation. He already has four Olympic medals for New Zealand, but apparently can’t handle his booze. "In October, we had some friends staying and over a few too many glasses of wine I said something like `find me a horse for the next Olympics'," Todd told one newspaper. They did and he did.
Laurie Lever, 60: An Olympic virgin at 60, Laurie Lever has been riding for 50 years. The father of four children, he has never had an Olympic qualifying horse before now. When asked about the impact of age on his performance, Lever said, “I would like to be 40 and have the knowledge I do now.”
Two Women “only” 33
Okay, so these two women aren’t Boomers. But at 33, they’re seriously older than the vast majority of the competitors in their events.
Melanie Roach: This determined athlete missed the 2000 Sydney Games because of back problems, a not uncommon problem (along with knees and elbows and ankles, etc) among weightlifters, who traditionally have pretty short careers. She used the time to start a family and despite having three kids under six, she underwent successful surgery for her herniated disc and qualified for the US team by lifting 240 lbs, more than twice her weight. Although she didn’t win a medal on Sunday, she was the only woman competitor to lift in all six of her attempts and she broke the American record. Not too shabby.
The "Girlish" Event
Women gymnasts are so young that there needs to be a strictly observed lower age limit at 16. The intensity of young girls’ gymnastic training arrests their puberty - and even in their late teens, gymnasts often look girlish. This year there has been a ton of controversy over suspicions, but apparently no proof, that the tiny Chinese gymnasts are under the requisite 16.
Oksana Chusovitina: And then there is Oksana Chusovitina, 33, now a member of the German team and the oldest gymnast in the 2008 Olympics. She’s already qualified in an amazing fourth place for the vault final. This is her fifth Olympics and, unusually, her third national team. She won team gold as part of the United team shortly after the end of the USSR. Then she was Uzbekistan’s first world champion and a part of their Olympic team, until she switched to the German team in 2006. She had turned to the German gymnastics coach, an old friend, for help in getting her son good medical attention when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He is now in remission.
How does she feel about being twice as old as most of her competitors? She feels like so many older people with a passion. "I feel perfect and I feel young, I will retire when it's time to go," she said. "It's my secret. I live gymnastics and it's my life."