Spikes15 Feb 2016

Better With Age


Meb Keflezighi qualifies for the Rio Olympics

Meb Keflezighi, 40, struck a blow for the older generation by securing his spot on the US Olympic team for the marathon in Rio at the weekend. Here are eight other golden oldies proving age is no barrier.

1. Constantina Dita

Growing up chasing cows and pigs on the family farm in the Carparthian Mountains would give anyone a solid endurance foundation. For Constantina Dita, who played handball as a schoolgirl, it was the start of a long and distinguished marathon career.

For many years the bridesmaid on the elite marathon stage, her bold front-running tactics finally paid dividends at the Beijing Olympics as the then 38-year-old burst to the head of the field just before halfway to claim gold. Partial to a tiramisu on the night before a marathon, the US-based Romanian eventually retired from the sport aged 43.

Constantina Dita at the Beijing Olympics

 Dita on the final metres of her Olympic marathon victory in Beijing's Bird's nest

2. Merlene Ottey

Age-defying Jamaican-born sprinter Merlene Ottey is the athlete who put the long in longevity. In a 24-year Olympic career that spanned seven games from 1980 to 2004, Ottey plundered a total of nine medals (three silver and six bronze), winning the last of those aged 40 with 100m bronze and 4x100m silver at the 2000 Sydney Games.

During a stellar sprint career, Ottey also captured 14 world champs medals before later switching allegiance to Slovenia. Aged 52 (NOT A MISPRINT) Ottey competed for her adopted homeland in the women’s 4x100m at the 2012 European Championships.   

She actually considered retiring after both the 1984 and 1988 Olympics but said: “I kept on running my best, so I thought, 'Why stop?'”

3. Terence “Tebbs” Lloyd Johnson

Though not a legend like an Ottey or an Alekna, the Briton’s name still stands proudly in the record books as the oldest man to ever win an athletics medal at an Olympic Games.

Leicestershire-born Johnson, who had been a useful boxer in the army, started race walking in 1921. Apparently hampered by a severe bout of sea sickness, he was disappointed to finish down in 17th in the 50km walk at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and retired from the sport. However, he became bored of judging, and made a return to race walking, earning bronze at the 1948 London Olympics aged 48 – just 14 seconds down on the silver medallist Gaston Godel of Switzerland. 

Terence “Tebbs” Lloyd Johnson in the 1948 Olympics

 48 in 1948 and still going... eh... walking strong

4. Pat McDonald

The Times Square traffic cop is still the oldest ever track and field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal after his success in the 56lb weight throw (making its second and last Olympic appearance) at the 1920 Antwerp Games.

The Irish-born US athlete, who stood at an imposing 6ft 2.5ins, had eight years earlier struck gold in the shot and silver in the two-handed shot (athletes threw both left and right handed, with the combined distance counting as the mark) at the Stockholm Games before re-emerging for his history-making moment. Still, Antwerp was not the end game for McDonald, who won the last of his 16 AAU titles in the 56lb weight throw in 1933 at the grand age of 55!

5. Kim Collins

Described as an “ageless wonder”, the 2003 100m world champion is still churning out world-class times in his 40th year. Making his Olympic debut way back at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the man from the tiny Caribbean island nation of St Kitts & Nevis has gone on to win seven world sprint medals (indoor and out) and in 2014 set a world masters record M35 of 9.96 for the 100m. The secret to Collins' longevity, he told SPIKES in 2014, is smart training.

“Very rarely, do I go all out in training, and I think that’s the mistake that most people make,” he says. “They come to training every day and want to break a personal record or world record.”

Kim Collins competes at the 2015 Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix

 Collins clocked a 6.47 PB in the 60m last year – aged 38!

6. Jesus Angel Garcia

George H. W. Bush (the senior one) was still US President and Leeds United (who?) were reigning English football champions when Jesus Angel Garcia made his international debut at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Some 24 years on the remarkable 46-year-old Spaniard is still going and plans to make his sixth Olympic appearance in Rio. The 1993 world 50km walk champion is still no mug, having placed a respectable ninth in his speciality, the 50km event, at last year’s Beijing World Championships. 

7. Virgilijus Alekna

Two Olympic titles, two world crowns and the owner of the second longest men’s discus throw in history make the giant Lithuanian a bona fide legend. That Alenka's international career spanned 20 years is equally as impressive.

Aged 40 at the time, the 2 metre tall former bodyguard to the Lithuanian Prime Minster placed fourth in the London Olympics. In 2014, aged 42, he was still ranked inside the world’s top 16.

Vrigilijus Alekna on the podium at the 2004 Athens Olympics

 Alekna's 73.88m still ranks him second in the all-time discus lists

8. Bernard Lagat

Owner of every men’s world masters record (+40) from 1500m to 5000m, the 41-year-old Kenyan-born athlete is still going strong on the international circuit some 16 years after winning 1500m bronze at the Sydney Olympics. A five-time world champion (indoors and out), who last year ran the second fastest 3000m indoor mark, Lagat is clearly still a major force to be reckoned with even at his comparatively advanced age.