Move aside Sky Brown - Olympic oldies rage against dying of the sporting light

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Dallas Oberholzer, at 46, is two years older than the three of the young women champions combined in the skateboarding - AP
Dallas Oberholzer, at 46, is two years older than the three of the young women champions combined in the skateboarding - AP

The combined age of teenagers Sky Brown, Sakura Yosozumi and Kokona Hiraki topping the podium at the women’s park skateboarding final on Wednesday was a mind boggling 44. But while most of us must have looked at that statistic in awe at the incredible athletic ability of these youngest of competitors, for those in the men’s version of the same event it must have been a chastening bit of maths.

Dallas Oberholzer of South Africa is two years older than the three of the young women champions combined. Not that, at 46, he is trying to hide his age. He looks every bit a man in the midst of his fifth decade having lead a varied life – a former chauffeur for Janet Jackson’s backing dancers, he first began skating when Nelson Mandela was still in prison and says he has “never had a real job” - the grizzled grey beard he sports as he rolls across the skate park a statement of his vintage.

And while he may look like the oldest roller in town, the thing is, Oberholzer was not even the most senior competitor tearing across the skateboarding park. Denmark’s Rune Gilfberg, who styles himself “The Danish Destroyer” and first took up a skateboard after he watched the movie Back To The Future when it was released in 1985, is eight months older.

Indeed, this has been the Olympics of the senior citizen. All across the events oldies have been raging against the dying of the sporting light. When she failed to qualify for the vault final in the Gymnastics Hall, a tearful 46-year-old Oksana Chusovitina finally called time on her career after eight Olympic Games, receiving a standing ovation from her fellow gymnasts and coaches.

Denmark’s Rune Glifberg is eight months older than Dallas Oberholzer - AP
Denmark’s Rune Glifberg is eight months older than Dallas Oberholzer - AP

And what a career it has been. After winning her first Olympic title aged 17 for the Soviet Union, she went on to claim three world titles and an Olympic silver aged 33 for her adopted country, Germany, before returning in Tokyo representing her native Uzbekistan.

Chusovitina had her first child Alisher in 1999 (he is now 22, just two years younger than Simone Biles) and returned to competition in order to finance his treatment after he was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2002. She enjoyed it so much she kept going. And going. And here she was, mother-henning her fellow members of the Uzbekistan team, still lithe, still lean and still able to leap a lot further than many half her age.

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It has been the same in the boxing ring, where the Indian flyweight Mary Kom – who won bronze in London in 2012 – was determined to carry on competing despite being eliminated from the lightweight competition by the Colombian Ingrit Valencia in the round of 16. She is, after all, a mere stripling at 38.

“I have been fighting for 20 years,” she told reporters after her scrap. “I’m a mother, I have four kids and have been fighting continuously and achieving much. I will play until I am 40.”

If Kom wanted a role model for proper longevity, however, she needed to take a detour from the boxing hall and head down the road to the Tokyo Equestrian Centre. Here she would have encountered a couple of medal winners for whom age is entirely irrelevant.

At 54, Carl Hester was Britain’s oldest competitor in these Games. The veteran equestrian, who first discovered and mentored Charlotte Dujardin, was part of the Team GB dressage team that finished in the bronze medal position. A man of inordinate enthusiasm, he declared after the medal ceremony that he had no intention of retiring from competition and will return to the Gloucestershire yard he shares with both Dujardin and a loud-mouthed parrot to prepare for another tilt at the Olympics.

At 54, Carl Hester was Team GB's oldest competitor in Tokyo - Paul Grover
At 54, Carl Hester was Team GB's oldest competitor in Tokyo - Paul Grover

Mind, even Hester has a way to go to match the record of the magnificent Australian rider Andrew Hoy. In Tokyo, the 62-year-old was competing in his eighth Olympics, stretching right back to Barcelona in 1992. And he wasn’t here to make up the numbers. He won silver in the team eventing and bronze in the individual competition making him the oldest individual medallist since Oscar Swahn, a Swedish shooter who took silver in the running deer double-shot team event, in 1920, aged 72.

When asked what it was that enabled Hoy to keep his cool in the latter stages of the competition - the medal on the line in a nail-biting jump-off - his reply was succinct: “Age, I think,” he said.

And he had a point. A bit of grey around the temples adds a certain perspective: when you have been round the block as much as Hoy you don’t panic. When you have faced it down across a lengthy career, failure is no longer the terrifying concept it once was.

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Certainly Oberholzer did not seem to worry about the idea of competing alongside those young enough to be his grandchildren. Nor did the fact that his grizzled mane looked comically misplaced when matched with the bold colours and youthful designs of the skateboarder’s preferred kit.

In fact he reckoned he could afford to be philosophical because finally making it to the Olympics had given him vindication at last from the most important source: his mother.

“My mom is finally happy with my life choices, bro,” he told a journalist from the Press Association after his competition. “You know what a good feeling that is? It’s taken that long for my mom to acknowledge what I do with my life. That’s probably the best thing I’m taking out of this, is that my mom finally goes: ‘Wow.’”

If nothing else, he has proven the eternal certainty: you are never too old to need your mother’s approval.

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