Did you, like me, spend the last 2 weeks staring at the TV trying to follow all the Olympic news? Still feeling rather British at heart, despite my 13 years down under, I was the first on the BBC Olympic website every morning catching up on Team GB news and then on to Sunrise to see how the Aussies had fared.
I loved it all – the sad moments, the happy, the golden and the wow moments! But my personal favourites were the golden oldies – men and women, over 40, showing the world that age does not have to be a barrier to physical activity at the top of elite competition. They take away some of the golden oldie excuses we like to trot out when it suits us to stay in bed in the morning rather than get out to exercise.
The following stories are just some of the older competitors in Rio that show us that age is JUST a number and is actually nothing but a MOTIVATOR for some competitors.
First off, meet Oksana Chusovitina, the other gymnast everyone’s talking about. Though really there’s no need for introductions, since she’s been at every Summer Olympics since Barcelona in 1992—five years before Simone Biles was born.
The 41-year-old athlete started her Olympic career competing for the Soviet Union (the gold-winning Unified Team in 1992); then represented Uzbekistan in 1996, 2000 and 2004; and then Germany in 2008 and 2012. Her best individual finish was a silver in the vault in 2008—and that was the event she competed in again in Rio.
“I am feeling good,” Chusovitina, the 5-foot-tall oldest Olympic gymnast in history, said. “On the podium, everyone is the same whether you are 40 or 16. You have to go out and do your routine and your jumps. But it’s a pity there are no points for age. I have no pain, no problems.” The now seven-time Olympian is also mum to a 16-year-old son.
Also making history in Rio was U.S. cyclist Kristin Armstrong, who celebrated her 43rd birthday one gold medal richer in Rio after winning her third straight Olympic time trial. This was of particular interest to me! As a cyclist I am utterly gobsmacked that she could win this tough event at 43. I have been using my advancing years as an excuse for the young guns passing me on a Sunday morning. Seems like I have just been deluding myself!
The mum of 5-year-old son Lucas, Kristin is the oldest female cycling medalist of all time and is the first American woman to win an individual event in three consecutive Summer Olympics.
“It was probably the hardest journey that I’ve been through,” said Kristin after her emotional finish, “that’s why I think that we keep coming back, trying to get to the pinnacle of sports, which is the top step of the podium. Each and every day my team around me, my family, sacrificed so much for me to be here. I sacrificed so much, and the emotions—I still have to pinch myself, but there was the emotion of exhaustion, the emotion of ‘I can’t believe this,’ and the emotion of so much excitement that it happened.
And people have asked me, over and over, ‘Why? Why am I back?’ And it’s because I can. And I showed it today and I’m so proud, and I’m so excited that I won my third gold medal. It’s a historical moment in sports, for women in the Summer Games.”
Equestrian had its fair share of us oldies too. Its hats off to Mary Hanna of Australia, who, at 61, was the oldest competitor at the Rio Olympics—followed closely by British show jumper John Whitaker, who just celebrated his 61st birthday.
“Every time I have done the Olympics, I’ve thought, this is probably the last time I will do it; but, after the last time, I thought: I am going to keep going with this because I feel fit and healthy and why shouldn’t I? So, here I am,” said Hanna, the grandmother of three, This is Hanna’s fifth trip to the Olympics, her first being the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta (she was not in Beijing in 2008).
Asked what it meant to him to be chosen to his sixth Olympic team, John Whitaker cheerfully replied, “It means I’m old!” He added, “No, seriously, this means a lot. The Olympics are the pinnacle. I feel lucky that I can still have a go at my age. Most sportsmen get probably one or two chances to go to the Olympics.”
Another inspirational oldie is 42-year-old Jo Pavey, who became the first British athlete to compete in five Olympics. “When you’re a young girl dreaming of going to the Olympics, you never think you could be going to five. Standing on that start line and looking up at the flame is really emotional. Never in my wildest dreams a few years back did I think I would be competing at the Olympics at my age.”