"Never too late": At the 2022 Beijing Olympics, older athletes set new records
BEIJING - Claudia Pechstein, a German speed skater, smiled wide as she crossed the finish line for the women's 3000m race on February 5.
Pechstein, who is a speed skater for many years, was thrilled to see her finish, which was last. Pechstein turns 50 in the month of 2022 Beijing Olympics, her eighth.
She said that although she was not fast, she smiled after crossing the finish line because she had achieved her goal of racing in the eighth Olympic Games.
An old saying says that age is just a number. This is evident at the Winter Games.
Pechstein did not break any speed records, but she was the oldest female competitor at the Winter Games. Pechstein tied Noriaki Kasai's record for Winter Olympian appearances.
She is also the second-oldest Olympic speed skating competitor, after Albert Tebbit from Great Britain, who competed in 1924 at 52.
Pechstein is one of many "older" athletes, those who have competed for more than 35 years. They are setting new records. Some even win medals.
According to the Olympic Studies Center, NPR discovered that at least 140 athletes representing each country are set to compete in the Winter Games. The center stated that the final number will be determined after the Games, so this number could be revised later.
They include two American snowboarders, Lindsey Jacobellis (36), and Nick Baumgartner (40), who made history by winning gold in Saturday's mixed team snowboard cross competition.
Jacobellis was the oldest American woman to win the gold medal at the Winter Games in Beijing earlier. She now has another. Baumgartner became the oldest snowboarder ever to win an Olympic Winter Games medal of any color. Johan Clarey, from France, is the oldest medalist in Beijing so far. At 41, he won his first medal, a silver. After competing in five previous Winter Games, he was nowhere near the podium.
After his win, he stated, "I made all my decisions late in life, you know. Since I was a little boy." My mother told me that I had taken the time to walk, speak and do all of these things because it was important for me. It's the same for my sports career.
This year, ice hockey relies on older players
According to data from the Olympic Studies Center, ice hockey has 27 athletes over 35 years old.
Five hockey players are over 35 years old for Team Canada. Benjamin Street, one of the five hockey players, will turn 35 during the Games. This brings the total to 6.
After the National Hockey League said no hockey players would compete in the Beijing Olympics, national teams had to search for players.
Spencer Sharkey, a spokesperson for Team Canada's Men’s Hockey, stated that "when selecting our team, the best players were selected from leagues that do not include the National Hockey League and we built a team we believe gives us best chance of winning a gold medal."
Sharkey stated, "It shows that players who have been playing for a while are still capable of competing at the highest levels."
Experiences are the best way to learn how to curl
Curling is a sport that follows ice hockey, with 21 of its competitors being over 35 years old. Norway's Torger Nergaard is 47 years old and is competing in his sixth Olympic Games.
Nergaard stated, "I always try and have fun. So that's what I think is the most important thing."
Magnus Vaagberg, Nergaard's father, has been with him so long that they actually competed in the Olympic Winter Games 2002 and 2006.
Carl August Kronlund was the oldest Olympian. He was 58 and played for Sweden in 1924. He was the oldest competitor and the Winter Olympics' oldest medal winner. Christopher Hamilton, World Curling Federation, stated that while the elite part of curling is more physically demanding, modern training methods allow curlers to continue competing at that level for longer periods.
Hamilton stated that the skip position is mentally more demanding than other parts of the game and would benefit from players with more experience and age.
American John Shuster, 39 years old, is competing in Beijing's fifth Olympics as a skip. He believes these Games will not be his last. Four years ago, he won gold at the Pyeongchang winter Olympics.
He said that curling is a sport where you can have longevity. "I feel in the best shape I have ever felt because I've had great teams throughout my career. It's difficult to believe that I will stop improving so I don't think I'll be stopping anytime soon.
Athletes are now focusing on their health
Olympic athletes are now following a wider trend of professional athletes competing longer than ever before.
After 22 years of playing professional football, NFL quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement earlier this month.
Lebron James, who is 37 years old, remains one of the most skilled basketball players. Experts believe that Sue Bird, now 41 years old, is still playing basketball in the WNBA.
Shuster stated that he has been focusing on improving his health from 2014.
He said that the game had become more youthful and athletic in Beijing. "That's part what I did since 2014, getting in better shape."
Baumgartner stated that his journey to gold was more difficult than ever.
After his win, he stated that it was difficult to see the younger kids taking over and trying to push you out.
He advises others 40-year-olds to not be too hard on themselves.
He said, "It's never too late to pursue your dreams and take control of your life." You can't let yourself down if your quit too soon, no matter how old or young.