Older elite athletes?
August 4, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of any elite athletes who got a late start on their sport? In particular cyclists? (but really any sport)

Just wondering if anyone knows of any elite athletes who got a later start on their sports. Particularly interested in cyclists. Also, anyone know anything about elite athletic competitions for older athletes in general (let's say, mid thirties-fifties)? I feel like I read an article in the newspaper within the last couple of months about a middle aged woman runner who was winning a bunch of upper level competitions geared towards older people. Sounded like something I'd like to learn more about.

I'm in my mid twenties (okay, veering towards late twenties at this point) and only in the past few years have I become interested in sports. Just looking for some inspiration to keep me motivated . . .
posted by Rinoia to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Actually one of the woman on the US Cycling team only started riding as something to do with her boyfriend who was an avid amateur racer. She was like 24 or something when she rode her first race.
posted by JPD at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some sports have a Masters division for people who want to continue (or start!) training and competing past the the age of elite competition. One very well developed program is Masters Swimming, which offers something for everyone from fiftysomething newcomer fitness swimmers to freshly retired Olympic athletes.

Looks like cycling has a masters scene as well.
posted by apparently at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2012

If you just want to be a local athlete, cycling is very friendly to starting at your age, in part because you can start out at a pretty low level and train your way up. And even most pro cyclists who started young don't seem to peak until their late '20s.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:53 PM on August 4, 2012

I don't know if you'd count him as an athlete (I do, but I'm biased) but Ned Suesse, the only American to finish the 2012 Dakar Rally on a motorcycle, didn't learn to ride a motorcycle until he was in his late twenties.
posted by workerant at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in Kathy Martin, an eliter runner who started in her 40s.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2012

oops. link.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:11 PM on August 4, 2012

You probably read about Kathy Martin, a 60 year old runner who began in her 30s. Long distance running has had several late starting athletes - Leslie Lewis, in the early '90s, Shirley Matson, in the '70s, and probably a lot more.
posted by jacalata at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2012

Clara Hughes, Canada's winningest Olympic athlete, has won medals in speed skating (winter olympics) and cycling (summer olympics.) She didn't get seriously into cycling until she was 28.
posted by Kololo at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whoops, meant she didn't get into SPEED SKATING until she was 28.
posted by Kololo at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2012

I'm guessing JPD is talking about Evelyn Stevens. Pro cyclists can have careers into their late 30s.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:36 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rich Roll fits the bill. 40, 50 pounds overweight, changed his life and has been a top finisher in the Ironman a few times.
posted by cecic at 4:19 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Powerlifters can keep getting objectively better well into their 30s and 40s. Two of the best American powerlifters (based on their current performance), Sioux-Z Hartwig-Gary and Jennifer Thompson, are 43 and 39 respectively, and both started training in their 20s.
posted by telegraph at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2012

Jeannie Longo, a French woman who started cycling at age 21 (after having been a downhill skier) and is still going strong at 53. "Strong" as in 1st place in last year's French Elite Time-Trial Championship. She's awesome.
posted by fraula at 6:02 PM on August 4, 2012

Rebecca Romero switched from rowing to track cycling at 26; she switched to triathlon (on a part-time basis) at the end of last year, just before her 32nd birthday.
posted by holgate at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2012

Late bloomers often excel at target sports.

Archer Larry Hughes started at 27 and ended up shooting a World Record. UK darts champion Bobby George took it up at age 30.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:26 PM on August 4, 2012

The longevity of Longo's career has always been tainted by the scandal of doping.

Still going strong at age 57 as a pro MTB rider for Specialized, Ned Overend is the man you wanna worship.
posted by wutangclan at 7:22 PM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not precisely what you asked, but I am in awe of Ernestine Shepherd. She led a very sedentary life until age 56 when she started getting in shape, and now at 74 has been a competitive weightlifter for over a decade. Oh, and she runs marathons when she isn't working as a professional trainer.
posted by cali at 9:59 PM on August 4, 2012

Chrissie Wellington, world champion Ironman triathlete didn't turn pro until she was 30, not too long after she won a duathlon she entered on a whim while on a cycling holiday. She obviously has near supernatural physical and mental gifts, but she has also worked incredibly hard to make the most of them.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:09 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do archers count? A lot don't start until 18-20 when they go to university and there were a few over 40s in the olympics this year. I think Team GBs youngest was shooting internationally within 3 or 4 years of taking up the sport. A guy at our club is in the county team and he's only been shooting for 2 years. He practices *a lot* though - like draws his bow 150 times a day at home on days we're not shooting.
posted by missmagenta at 12:22 AM on August 5, 2012

I know these aren't as late as you're looking for, but for elite cycling, this is pretty much...

Svein Tuft only joined the pro ranks when he was 27 or 28, and eventually worked his way up to the ProTour level.

Evelyn Stevens only started riding a bike seriously at 25 and within four years has podiumed in the Giro Donne.
posted by The Michael The at 6:13 AM on August 5, 2012

UK 2012 rowing gold medalists started rowing four years ago. (But they were already athletic before that.)
posted by bentley at 12:05 PM on August 5, 2012

Uh, the the the Michael, how are you doing your math? The article you linked to mentions Svein Tuft joining the national team in 2001 (age 23). I certainly remember watching him as a pro with Broadmark and later Symmetrics at all the local races in the early 2000s. Yes, Tuft joined elite cycling compared to many others who usually start in their teens, but not as late as you claim.
posted by wutangclan at 12:30 PM on August 5, 2012

Dotsie Bausch didn't start cycling till age 26. I believe she is in her late 30s now, won a silver in London yesterday in the team pursuit.
posted by chuke at 2:56 PM on August 5, 2012

Lori-Ann Muenzer won a gold cycling medal at 38
posted by canoehead at 5:51 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hiroshi Hoketsu is competing at the Olympics in equestrian at the age of 71
posted by Greener Backyards at 8:04 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers, everyone! These are some great stories.
posted by Rinoia at 6:21 PM on August 6, 2012

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