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Age and the Olympics

by on August 10, 2016

We’re only at day 5 of the Rio Olympics but already there are some notable age at work stories to report. 

First, thanks to Mike Hytner here on the Guardian live blog, for pointing out that the oldest ever medal winner at any Olympics was Oscar Swahn, who won silver in the shooting competition for Sweden in the 1920 Games when he was 72.

Back at Rio, in the equestrian events, Australia’s Stuart Tinney (51) has won bronze in the team eventing competition, whilst America’s oldest Olympian at these Games, Philip Dutton (52) has won bronze in the individual jumping event. However, they may not even end up as the oldest medal winners in Rio as Australia’s Mary Hanna (61) is still to go in the dressage event.

At the other end of the age spectrum, I watched some of the women’s gymnastics last night, thinking how young some of the competitors looked. I’m sure that’s partly a function of the body shape determined by the rigours of their particular sport. Over the years, the minimum age at which gymnasts can compete has risen and is now 16. This is said to be to protect children from injuries. There is some debate about other problems with the International Gymnastics Federation maintaining the elite-level training affects the functioning of growth hormones, possibly causing delayed bone growth and the onset of puberty. Apparently the body is able to recover and catch up later if given rest periods.

This article in TeenVogue profiles some of the youngest Olympians over the years. At Rio, the youngest competitor is the 13 years old swimmer Gaurika Singh of Nepal. 
There may be more age at work stories from Rio before the Olympics and Paralympics are over!

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