These days we see a growing number of young guns competing in the Olympics, and it is becoming common practice to retire from Olympic sports as athletes approach their early thirties, if not sooner. But this surge of youth into the games may just seem to be the trend because the younger athletes compete in the more popular sports.
WaPo reports that while we don’t see many competitors over age 40, some of them are still very successful.
In the past three Summer Olympics, 64 of the U.S. team’s 1,707 athletes have been age 40 and older — and they won 23 medals. As we watch 16-year olds compete in the gymnastics events, even the 20-somethings among us look back regretfully and wonder if our glory days have passed.
But the Olympics are changing and perhaps bring more of a burden than in previous years. American superstar swimmer Michael Phelps has said that this will be his last Olympics and he is only 26. Training for the Olympics has shifted from a hobby for some to life for everyone. You can’t sacrifice a training day any more if you intend to stay competitive.
As athletes get into the Olympics younger and younger, they will burnout younger as well. So over time, regardless how talented those who have lived longer may be, we will see a more youthful field with each passing Olympics.
This chart looks at which sports favor the young and in which sports the old folks still reign. As you might expect, the young are conquering the more aerobic and physically intensive sports, while those over the hill do better at more fine movement and technical games like shooting and archery.