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Aging athletes can still do it
  • July 10th, 2008

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Five time Olympian Dara Torres and her daughter Tessa

I want to share an interesting article. It’s about a swimmer who is still competing at top elite level at the age of 41 years old. She is American Dara Torres and she will be competing in her fifth Olympics this coming Beijing.

Firstly the article is not athletics related but its an absolute read of an article, as for one it shows that training and determination goes a long way and age are just numbers

I’ve highlighted a few important paragraphs in the article. Full link to her article is provided at the end

The other reason people retire is that normal life gets in the way. You get a normal life, you get a family. It gets harder to do the kinds of things you need to do to prepare for an elite competition. Where is the time to do the practice?

Don’t you lose muscle mass with age?
You probably start losing it, but not in a big way until your 40s, if you’re able to do the training. The problem is most people stop training, so you’re both aging and becoming more sedentary. That’s what happens to most of us. We might weigh the same, but it’s redistributed. In the case of Torres, she apparently had retired, but I heard rumors that she stayed very fit. But again, she’s also an exquisitely talented athlete, and that’s what it takes to come back. You could just as easily argue that Carl Lewis could come back. I don’t know that he could, but it wouldn’t astound me.

What happens in the 40s that makes you start declining in athletic ability?
There is an aging curve, and it starts around 40. Every decade after that, extra pieces fall off. After age 60, aerobic capacity really drops off. Somewhere out about 60, it just seems like the motor doesn’t work as well. Anybody who has competed into adulthood will tell you they get more fragile, training takes longer to recover from. Anybody in their 30s and 40s will say, “I have to train more carefully. I can’t just go beat myself up,” which they used to be able to do.

What about lung capacity in older athletes? Conventional wisdom has it that it’s sometimes better to be older in longer-distance track and swimming events. But Torres is winning sprints.
The data are that in early middle age, most of the loss that normal people see is probably as much changes in lifestyle as it is aging per se. The good data are very thin, so you can’t say there’s a study proving this, but most athletes will tell you that it takes them longer to recover from training probably after their mid-20s. But they get the same performance results.

But many of the rest of us feel old after we hit 40. Why?
Part of that is just we’re sitting on our bottoms. People who go to the Olympics are extraordinary examples of the human species. They can do things that the rest of us can hardly dream of doing. You don’t lose that. Whatever it is that makes that, it’s very clear that the very highest level of athletes, you have to have talent to begin with. There’s a lot of people who’ve trained it very hard, and the talent ain’t there. She obviously has both.

Are injuries are a bigger deal than her age?
Yes. She just managed to work around that.

So practice makes perfect in a skill sport?
Yes. And you’re more mature. You see the same thing in track and field. A lot of female athletes come back after they have kids. You lead a more focused lifestyle. You don’t waste energy.

Others have tried unsuccessfully to make comebacks at an older age, right?
Life got in the way or injuries got in the way. [Marathoner] Joan Benoit Samuelson is a good example. Before she won in ’84, she came back from knee surgery. The margin of error, the difference between first and 10th at that level of competition, is so small.

So how did Torres do it?
It took smarts to get there, and a certain amount of luck. She probably had to train a lot more carefully than a 19-year-old does. A 19-year-old just pops in the water. When you’re 40, you’ve got to think about “I did this today, what am I going to do tomorrow. I’m not going to recover in the same way as I did when I was 19.”

So we should blame ourselves, not our age?
Yes.

Read the full article

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Posted by Uncle Sha.
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