Oldest, Youngest Athletes Compete at Tokyo Olympics


From 12- to 66- year-olds, the Summer Olympics athletes in Tokyo reflect a wide spectrum of intergenerational competition, symbolizing inclusiveness and welcoming the best of the world at any age.

A quick look at the scorecard includes:

Hend Zaza, a 12-year-old Syrian table tennis player, is the youngest Olympian at the Tokyo Games and is the fifth-youngest Olympian ever.

Mary Hanna, a 66-year-old Australian equestrian, is the oldest athlete at the Tokyo Games and is the sixth-oldest Olympian ever.

The age spectrum is understandable, given that there are 339 events in 33 different sports, with a total of 50 disciplines.

The mix includes five new sports, as well as 15 new events within existing sports that include 3×3 basketball, freestyle BMX, and the return of madison cycling.

The U.S. team includes 16-year-old Brighton Zeuner, a first-time Olympian who already made history by becoming the youngest champion of the X Games in 2017, when she was 13.

The average age of an Olympic athlete in Tokyo is 27, the oldest since 1948.

As the second week of the Games begins, it’s been a mixed bag of results for young and old.

Zaza’s Olympic journey was short-lived after losing in straight sets (4-11, 9-11, 3-11, 5-11) to Liu Jia of Austria in the opening round of the women’s singles table tennis tournament.

To put it in perspective, Lui has a 10-year-old daughter.

“I had maternal feelings,” Lui said. “It was less about the sport side of this game and more the human side.”

Zaza was a flag bearer for Syria during Opening Ceremonies.

“I was hoping for a winning match and for better play; but it’s a tough opponent, so it’s a good lesson for me, especially with the first Olympics,” Zaza told reporters through an interpreter. “I will work on it to get a better result next time, hopefully.”

Hanna, a grandmother, is waiting for her events to begin so she can start her sixth tour of the Summer Games.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be selected for my sixth Olympics,” Hanna said in a June statement. “It has been a truly testing time for all with so many challenges… a bit like walking a tightrope to get this far, and I am sure it’s been the same for my fellow team members.”

Other prominent names and faces on both sides of the generational fence include:

Xia Lian Ni, 58, of China, is the oldest table tennis player in Olympic history.

Abdi Abdirahman, 44, is the oldest U.S. runner to ever qualify for an Olympic team.

Katie Grimes, a 15-year-old swimmer, is the youngest U.S. Olympian this year.

Phillip Dutton, 57, a member of the U.S equestrian team, is the oldest U.S. athlete this year. He is competing in his seventh Olympics. He told “Time” his fellow riders on the equestrian circuit often tease him about his age but it’s not something he dwells on. He said longevity in his sport is possible due to the unique partnership between rider and horse.

“The horse is the athlete,” he said. “There’s no question about that. Our job is basically to get the horse to shine.”

The equestrian events tend to skew to an older demographic. And they prove that age is just a number.

Australia’s Andrew Hoy, 62, an eight-time Olympian, won a silver medal as part of the equestrian eventing team on Monday. He became the oldest medalist in the country’s history. Hoy then won an individual bronze medal in the eventing jumping final.

“It is very, very special,” Hoy told reporters. “We don’t come to these championships, especially Olympic Games, to finish in fourth, fifth or sixth. We only come to get a medal, and, look, it’s been a complete team effort.”

So, how can we relate to athletes who are at the top of their game, regardless of age?

Whether you are pursuing Olympic dreams, or simply thinking of trying out for the Saturday night senior softball league, Dutton offers this perspective:

“I’m flattered if I’m an inspiration. I like to associate myself with up and coming people and try to stay current in the sport, and not sort of dwell on what it was like in the good old days,” he told “Time.” “I try to be looking ahead. I’m excited to test myself. I’m not a person who shies away from something difficult”

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