Saturday, August 4, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Our Olympian Age (Olympics II)

by Peggy Robin

There’s nothing to make you feel your age quite like watching a 15-year-old swimmer triumph over a field of older, more experienced swimmers to take home the gold medal. Yes, I’m thrilled for Katie Ledecky, the Stone Ridge sophomore, who, as a Bethesda resident, I will happily embrace as a neighbor. But at the same time, in some tiny almost inaccessible corner of my brain, there died some tiny, scrap of an insane thought that one day, I too, could be an Olympic  swimming champion. Last night, I finally, irrevocably let go of the fantasy and admitted to myself, I’m just too damn old. (Never mind that even when I was her age, I was never particularly fast.) I own swimsuits that are older than she is. And yes, they are all faded and stretched.

But then, to start feeling better about my age, I’m turning to shooting, and dressage.  These are two events I would never watch if they were anywhere but in the Olympics. (Of course, I would barely be aware that they existed, except for the fact that they are shown in little snippets during NBC’s ultra-marathon, endless yak-fest of coverage of the London Games.) These are sports where maturity, and even superannuity, apparently count for something, as competitors in these two disciplines are among the oldest of Olympians -- and they win medals, too.

Take dressage:  The oldest competitor in the 2012 Olympic games is Hiroshi Hoketsu, a 71-year-old horseman for Japan. He’s in fantastic shape for his fourth Olympics (his first one was Tokyo 1964). He’s just a little concerned this time around because his horse, Whisper, is not so young anymore. Both of them look good, though --and not just for their age!-- as you will see in this video that should warm the heart of any of the fifty-plus set who try to keep in shape:

The oldest member of the US Olympic team is also an equestrian (that’s Karen O’Connor, age 54), but it’s the 20-member US Olylmpic shooting team, with its average age at 32, and five of its members over 40, including the oldest, 46-year-old Eric Uptagrafft, and his 41-year-old wife and teammate, Sandra Uptagrafft, which gives hope and pride to older athletes across our land.

The oldest person ever to medal at the Olympics was a shooter: 72-year-old Oscar Swahn of Sweden, who competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp in two events, placing fourth in one but earning a silver medal in the other. At age 76 Oscar qualified for the 1924 Olympics in Paris but had to withdraw because of illness.

Oscar was (and remains) the oldest gold medalist, with his first-place finish in shooting at the 1912 Olympics, held in Stockholm (in his home country) at age 64. He was nine months older than the oldest American ever to win a gold: 64 year old Galen Spencer, an archer, who had previously held the distinction of being the oldest gold medalist for his win at the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri.

Flash forward a century and eight years to 2012, and back to the pool:  I’m sorry to report that 45-year-old American swimmer Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medalist (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008) did not earn a place on this year’s American Olympics swim team. She missed it by nine one-hundredths of a second. Still, she remains the oldest American swimmer to win Olympic medals -- the three silver medals she earned at the 2008 games in Beijing at age 41. She won her first Olympic gold medal at age 17 in the 1984 games in Los Angeles. How I would have rooted for her, had she made the team this year.

I do hope new swimming sensation Katie is still racking up medals when she is Dara Torres’s age and beyond. I wish her only the best. My deep inner misgivings at watching her win are safely confined to some alternate reality that I’m dragging into this column because that’s the only place it can exist. In last week’s column I came up with some creative new additions that I’d like to see added to that alternative reality Olympics. Now, thinking of those older shooters, I’ve got yet another one, a combination of swimming and shooting for the summer games, modeled on the skiing/shooting biathlon that has long been part of the winter games. Only this time the shooting part woud be done with water pistols.

Here’s how it would go: Each athlete races along an open water course, stopping to tread water at a few fixed shooting points, where he or she would pick up a water pistol and squirt a steady stream at target. Faster and more accurate shooting at the target makes a column rise until it reaches the top level, just like the water pistol shooting game at an arcade; then the athlete can swim on to the next target The first to reach the end of the course wins the gold…and an enormous stuffed teddy bear.  I’ve won a bunch of them at Rehoboth, so I think I have a chance.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

No comments:

Post a Comment