At the Olympic Games, age is just a number that is often ignored

Posted at 2:51 PM, Aug 05, 2021

The Olympic Games are a true melting pot. They gather the world’s greatest athletes of all cultures, races, nationalities, sizes, genders and skin tones. The Olympic Games in Tokyo also have brought together athletes of a wide arrange of ages – teens and pre-teens, middle aged veterans in their late 30s and 40s and at least one genuine senior citizen.

Regardless of their ages, the Olympians in Tokyo are reminding us that age is indeed just a number. And whether you’re a teenager in your first Games, or a veteran of multiple Olympics, age shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams.

So, like sands through the hourglass, here are some grains of wisdom about some of the youngest and oldest competitors in Tokyo:

The youngest and the oldest

The youngest athlete in the Tokyo Games is Hend Zaza, 12, a table tennis player from Syria. She is the youngest Olympian since 1992, when 11-year-old Carlos Front competed for Spain in rowing and 12-year-old Judit Kiss participated in swimming for Hungary. Zaza is also the youngest table tennis Olympian in history. In her Olympic debut in Tokyo, Zaza was defeated by Austria's Liu Jia who, at 39 years old, was more than three times Zaza's age.

Tokyo 2020's oldest competitor, 66-year-old Australian equestrian Mary Hanna, who has said she already is looking forward to 2024 Games in Paris, which would be her seventh Olympics. "I don't know what else to do with myself,” she said. “I've been doing this for so long now. Look, riding’s one of those amazing sports where you can do it no matter what your age is, or your gender." Hanna, who has four grandchildren, is 54 years older than Zaza.

SEE MORE: Syria's Hend Zaza, youngest Tokyo Olympian at 12 years old, out in first match

Those kids and their skateboards

Skateboarding has introduced the Olympic Games to a younger generation of fans and athletes. And that was reflected in some of the sport’s medalists.

Kokona Hiraki, 12, became the youngest Olympic medalist in 85 years with a silver medal in women's park skateboarding. In the same event, Great Britain’s Sky Brown, 13, became the nation's youngest Olympic medal winner of all time as she earned bronze.

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The sport’s youth movement hasn’t excluded some of skateboarding’s legends, however. Denmark's Rune Glifberg, 46, nicknamed the "Danish Destroyer", is the oldest skater competing in the men's contest. He was featured in the very first Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game in 1999. He just a few months older than South Africa's Dallas Oberholzer, who is also 46.

"Dude, Rune's a legend, he's been in the game for a very long time," said American Zion Wright. "For him to be here, competing at this level at the age he's at, him being able to hang with the little guys, it's amazing.”

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SEE MORE: Yosozumi, Hiraki, Brown receive park skateboarding medals

The oldest decathlete

Canadian Damian Warner, 31, led from start to finish to win the men's decathlon gold at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday with a Games’ record score of 9,018 points. Warner also became the oldest Olympic champion in the men's decathlon, overtaking Norway's Helge Lovland, who was 30 years and 102 days in 1920.

"There was a lot of doubt about whether I was going to be able to finish it, but for me to finish with a medal is amazing," said Warner, adding that he is planning to compete in Paris in 2024. "I really want to win there, to win decathlon gold medal in Paris would be amazing."

SEE MORE: Decathlon tracker: Damian Warner cracks 9000, takes gold

Eight Games for gymnastics Chusovitina

Five years before American gymnast McKayla Skinner was born, Oksana Chusovitina was already an Olympic gold medalist. At 46, the gymnast from Uzbekistan has defied all odds to compete at her eighth Olympic Games in Tokyo. Chusovitina bid the Games a tearful farewell, however, after failing to qualify for the finals on the vault, the only apparatus on which she competes. Skinner won a silver medal in that competition.

Sunisa Lee, the youngest member of the U.S. gymnastics team, won the gold on in the women’s individual overall competition.

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SEE MORE: Oksana Chusovitina gets farewell standing ovation

More fun facts for the ages

  • The youngest member of Team USA is 15-year-old swimmer Katie Grimes; the oldest is equestrian Phillip Dutton, 57.
  • At 44, Abdi Abdirahman is the oldest runner to ever make a U.S. Olympic track and field team. He will run in the marathon on Sunday. Abdirahman is a veteran of four Olympics Games. He was born in Somalia and became an American citizen in 2000.
  • China's Lyu Xiaojun, 37, became the oldest man to win an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting when he claimed the 81kg title
  • Greysia Polii, 33, is the oldest athlete to win a gold medal in badminton.

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  • At 62, Australia's Andrew Hoy became his nation’s oldest Olympic medal winner with a silver in individual eventing and a bronze team eventing. Hoy who took part in his first Olympics in 1984 and won team gold in 1992. Asked whether it was experience that had taken his team to the podium, Hoy said with a smile: "I think it's age."

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Information from Reuters was used in this report.