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Not Just About the Teens: The Older Women Who Are Winning Olympic Glory

These female athletes at the Tokyo Games are pushing the age boundaries and inspiring us with their persistence, grit, and unquestionable boldness.

There are three stages of Olympic watching: From pre-teen to maybe your mid-30s, you watch the powerful bodies running, diving, tumbling and think that could be (could have been) me. Then after your mid-30s, you start identifying with the parents of the athletes, eyeing your own progeny and thinking, That could be me. Or maybe not, as you realize your kid is once again glued to Minecraft. At our age, as we witness 13-year-olds win skateboarding gold and teenagers on the podium in most every sport, we realize we could be the grandmothers now.

But not every athlete in Tokyo was born after the Internet was invented. Some athletes were around to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall, the moon landing, maybe even that time when Democrats and Republicans got along. We honor three of them here, because while the core values of the Olympics are excellence, respect, and friendship, these women add experience, determination, and persistence to the mix.

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Mary Hanna, Equestrian, 66

older Olympic athletes, Mary Hanna

Australian Mary Hanna is the second-oldest female athlete in Olympic history and the oldest Olympian at the Tokyo games. She got to the Olympics on horseback, competing in individual and team dressage events.

Born in 1954, Hanna previously competed in Rio 2016, London 2012, Athens 2004, Sydney 2000, and Atlanta 1996. She has never won an Olympic medal; in these games she placed 13th in the team event and sixth in the individual competition. Sixth in the world at age 66 is nothing to sneeze at–especially since she accomplished the feat despite persistent back problems (and surgery for a herniated disc), and a family tragedy that left her daughter in a medically-induced coma after a fall from a horse. Brava Mary Hanna!

Ni Xia Lian, Table-tennis, 58

older Olympic athletes, Ni Xia Lian

Although she was born in Shanghai in 1963 and began playing table tennis in China at age 7, Ni Xia Lian has represented Luxembourg at the Olympics since 1991.

Tokyo is her fifth Olympics, after competing in the games in 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016. In the Rio games, she was the flag bearer for the Luxembourg team at the closing ceremony. In these games, she lost her round-two match to South Korea’s Shin Yubin.

But Ni holds an impressive world record: Four years ago, she played (and won) the longest match in the history of modern professional table tennis, which lasted for one hour, 33 minutes, and 42 seconds. “Unforgettable match, and wonderful, wonderful to win,” Ni said after the win. Keep on winning, Ni Xia Lian!

Oksana Chusovitina, Gymnastics, 46

She made two vaults in the gymnastics arena last week, and with that Oksana Chusovitina, pictured at top, became the oldest woman to ever compete in Olympic gymnastics.

Born in Uzbekistan in 1975, Chusovitina has made it to eight straight Olympic games. Her first competition was in 1992–five years before Simone Biles was born. She has represented the Unified Team, Germany, and Uzbekistan throughout her Olympic career, and she became the first woman to compete in seven games after Rio 2016. After those games, Chusovitina announced that she was retiring but that didn’t last long. She was soon back on the bars and the beam with an eye on Tokyo.

On Sunday, she earned a 14.166 on the vault, narrowly failing to reach the event final. When she realized her Olympic days were really done, she climbed back to the vault runway and received a standing ovation from the small crowd of coaches and gymnasts.

“It was really nice,” she told USA Today. “I cried tears of happiness because so many people have supported me for a long time.”

The icing on the cake was getting the star treatment from Team USA. In an Instagram post showing her with the women’s team, including Biles and eventual all-around gold winner Suni Lee, Chusovitina said, “I only get better, like fine wine.” Hear, hear!!

Read More: Former Olympic Swimmer Made a Stunning Comeback in Her 50s

By NextTribe Editors


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