Age, Shm-Age! Does Age Really Mean Something?

August 11, 2016

For the Olympics, you have to be at least 14 years old to compete in diving, 15 to compete in Judo, and 16 to compete in gymnastics and equestrian, but is there a maximum age? Most sports don’t set an age maximum, but there are a few exceptions: boxers can’t be over 40 and men’s soccer teams are only allowed three members over the age of 23. All interesting facts, but why are we talking about age? Well, because age matters when it comes to an athlete’s peak physical ability! A few years ago, French researchers studied the performances of athletes and saw that there was indeed an age when an athlete’s abilities were at his or her best. What’s that average age? 26, give or a take a few years. And depending on the sport, that average age may be even younger — we’re talking 21 for swimmers and 15 for gymnasts.

But before you go thinking that you can no longer be a competitive athlete after the age of 26, hold that thought because these Olympians seem to think you can. Swimmer Michael Phelps is 31 and won one silver and five gold medals at this year’s Olympics, beating peers that are in their 20s. Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina is 41 and this is her seventh Olympic games. Equestrian rider Mary Hanna is 61 and the grandmother of three. So, does age matter when it comes to competing in the Olympics? For these athletes, you’re only as old as you think you are.