Think you are too old for the Olympics? These athletes prove you wrong

Australia’s own Mary Hanna, 66, is the oldest Olympian in Tokyo.

Australia’s own Mary Hanna, 66, is the oldest Olympian in Tokyo. Photo: Getty

After Chinese weightlifter Li Wenwen reached cult hero status by lifting a total of 320 kilograms – an Olympic record – and walking away with gold, Twitter was a flurry.

One person asked: Has someone in their late 20s missed the boat to start weightlifting?

“Not at all,” piled in the responses from passionate weightlifters around the world.

As skateboarding made its Olympic debut, usually chilled-out mums and dads experienced the pull of “tiger parenting”.

In summation of parental conversations: “I think my ship’s sailed … but I’ll put the pressure on my five-year-old. That’s what kids are for, right?”

Can the kid make it for Brisbane 2032?

“It’s the right timing.”

Never too old

Even in the Olympics, age is just a number.

Across the Games, athletes are proving that age is no barrier to being the best.

La Trobe University’s Head of Sport and Exercise Science Paul Gastin said in some sports, the extra years are actually an advantage.

“There’s a range of sports that are more targeted and more suitable to younger athletes while others are more suitable for older athletes,” Professor Gastin said.

“A great example is your equestrian events, it’s rider and horse. You’ve got to have great skill and enormous experience. It’s not just your performance, you’re trying to manage another beast.”

Cycling, rowing, table tennis, canoeing, shooting, archery and equestrian are all sports where athletes’ age ranges easily go into the 50s and sometimes 60s.

The oldest athlete in modern Olympic history was Swedish shooter Oscar Swan, who was 72 years old when he nabbed a silver medal at the 1920 Games in Antwerp.

Professor Gastin said in these sports it can be more about skill and experience than being at a physical peak.

“Athletes who have more experience, who have been to the Olympic Games previously, they’re able to handle the really challenging environment,” he said.

So who are some of Tokyo’s oldest Olympic athletes?

Mary Hanna, 66

Australia’s Mary Hanna is the oldest Olympian in Tokyo. She is the first woman to make six Olympic teams. She’s competing in equestrian.

Andrew Hoy, 62

Andrew Hoy became Australia’s oldest Olympic medallist this week, winning silver as part of the equestrian eventing team and a bronze in the individual event.

Santiago Raul Lange, 59

Argentine Olympic sailor and a naval architect Santiago Raul Lange, 59, is competing in his sixth Games in Tokyo – despite losing 80 per cent of his lungs in a 2015 battle with lung cancer.

Nino Salukvadze, 52

In Georgia, there are few places for shooting training so Nino Salukvadze built a range in her basement.

She’s an eight-time Olympian and in the 2016 Rio Games competed in the same Games as her son, Tsotne Machavariani, who is also a shooter.

Xia Lian Ni, 58

Xia Lian Ni is a Chinese native who represents Luxembourg – the country she has called home for more than three decades.

She’s competed in five Olympics and is the oldest Olympic table tennis pro.

Oksana Chusovitina, 46

In gymnastics, a sport dominated by teenagers, Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina stands out.

She made history Tokyo by being the oldest woman to compete in the Olympic gymnastics – her final after eight consecutive Olympic Games and 11 medals at 17 world championships.

Rune ‘The Danish Destroyer’ Glifberg, 46

The oldest qualifier in skateboarding is known as ‘The Danish Destroyer’. Some might recognise him from the very first Tony Hawk Pro Skater game for the original PlayStation in 1999.

Sandra Sánchez, 39

When Sandra Sánchez was 33 they told her she was too old for karate kata. Now at 39 she’s reigning world champion and in the shape of her life ahead of karate’s Games debut appearance this week.

With her focus trained on that gold medal, the Spanish karateka could be set for a historic moment.

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