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These Olympic Athletes Prove Success Is Ageless

There’s been plenty of Tokyo 2020 headlines about Hend Zaza, the Syrian table tennis prodigy who, at 12 years old, is one of the youngest Olympians of all time.

But there’s some striking personal stories on the other side of the age spectrum, too.

Oksana Chusovitina, a 46-year-old gymnast from Uzbekistan, impressively competed in her eighth Olympic Games last week. Chusovitina, who competed in a sport dominated by teenage athletes, received a standing ovation after performing in what she said would be her last Olympics.

“I feel very good to be here. But this will for sure be my last Olympics,” she told reporters. “I’m 46 years old. Nothing is going to change it.”

“I’m alive, I’m happy, I’m here without any injuries, and I can stand on my own,” she added with a laugh.

Then there’s Australian equestrian Mary Hanna, who at age 66 is the second-oldest female athlete in Olympic history and the oldest Olympian competing in Tokyo.

Through their efforts, Hanna and Chusovitina are changing the conversation around age and agility. They’re proof that you can compete or put yourself up to a physical challenge way past what is considered “your prime,” said Michael Stones, a professor emeritus at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, who researches healthy aging and physical performance.

“It’s terrific that this year’s Olympics includes so many younger and older athletes,” he told HuffPost. “They show that age alone is not an insurmountable barrier to excellence in physical activities.”

These Olympians also lend the games some experience and maturity, especially in team sports, said Sandra Hunter, a professor of exercise science and director of the Human and Athletic Performance Research Center at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“These older athletes can help mentor the younger ones, particularly with all the mental and psychological challenges that we’ve seen,” she said. “They bring a level of maturity to the teams and surrounding athletes that allow the younger athletes to learn.”

Below, we spotlight 10 older Olympians who are giving it their all at the Tokyo Summer Games.

Mary Hanna, 66
Ryan Pierse via Getty Images
At 66, Australian equestrian dressage competitor Mary Hanna is the second-oldest woman in Olympics history, after U.K. equestrian Lorna Johnstone, who was 70 at the 1972 Games.

Hanna, pictured here at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games with Team Australia’s Aislin Jones, already has sights set on the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

“It’s only three years away,” she said after competing in dressage qualifiers in Tokyo. “Unless my body really breaks down, I’m certainly aiming for Paris.”

Andrew Hoy, 62
BEHROUZ MEHRI via Getty Images
On Monday, another Australian, Andrew Hoy, become the country’s oldest Olympic medalist at age 62 after winning a silver and bronze in the equestrian eventing competition.

Tokyo was Hoy’s eighth Games appearance and if he has his way, he’ll compete in the the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane.

“I’ve got my eyes set on 2032 — Brisbane,” Hoy said. “Big incentive to get there. We will wait and see. Vassily [my horse] is going really well. While I’m healthy I will continue doing what I love doing.”

Xia Lian Ni, 58
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC via Getty Images
Tokyo 2020 marks Xia Lian Ni of Luxembourg’s fifth Olympic appearance. The 58-year-old lost her second-round match to South Korea’s Shin Yubin, who is an Olympic first-timer.

Ni isn’t your typical Olympian: According to Radii China, the Shanghai-born mom practices only two or three times per week, warms up for just 10 minutes pre-game and oftentimes relies on her instinct over her sight because of presbyopia.

Oksana Chusovitina, 46
LOIC VENANCE via Getty Images
Though she didn’t qualify for the vault finals, Uzbekistan’s Oksana Chusovitina received a standing ovation and overwhelming support from her fellow gymnasts after competing in her eighth and likely last Olympics.

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

“I didn’t look at the results, but I feel very proud and happy,” she added. “I’m saying goodbye to sports. It’s kind of mixed feelings.”

Nino Salukvadze, 52
Sergei Bobylev via Getty Images
After her Tokyo efforts last weekend, Georgian shooter Nino Salukvadzebecome the only woman in Olympic history to compete in nine Olympic Games.

Nino and her son Tsotne Machavariani, pictured here,represented Georgia at the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first mother-and-son duo to compete in the same Olympic Games.

If her son has his way, Salukvadze will compete in her 10th Olympics in three years in Paris.

“The whole time we were talking [last], he kept saying, ‘This is out of the question. There are three years left. You can go for your tenth Olympics, you have a chance. Why not take it? If you quit, I will quit too!’ And I don’t want him to quit,” she said.

Santiago Raul Lange, 59
Clive Mason via Getty Images
Santiago Raul Lange of Team Argentina, pictured to the right, is competing in his sixth Olympic Games this year. He won a gold medal in sailing at the 2016 Rio games after having 80% of his left lung removed.“The operation, somehow, motivated me to go to Rio de Janeiro,” he said in an interview posted on his Olympic bio. “I was fortunate that the 2016 Olympics were held within a year. My mind wasn’t caught by cancer or surgery, but I was looking forward to the competition.”
Savate Sresthaporn, 58
Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images
It’s never too late to start! Shooter Savate Sresthaporn of Team Thailand didn’t begin shooting until 2007, after being encouraged to take up the sport by a friend.
Abdullah Al-Rashidi, 58
Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images
Abdullah Al-Rashidi, a seven-time Olympian from Kuwait, took home the bronze medal in the men’s skeet event in Tokyo. Now, he’s got his eyes set on Paris.

“I am the oldest shooter and the bronze medal is worth more than gold for me. I am very happy for this medal, but I hope at the next Olympics, gold medal. Paris!” he told the Olympic Information Service at the Asaka shooting range.

Phillip Dutton, 57
Molly Darlington via Reuters
At age 57, Australian-born Phillip Dutton is competing in his seventh Olympic Games. Dutton, an equestrian who’s competed for Team USA in his last three Olympics, said he’s inspired by NFL quarterback Tom Brady.

“I was very inspired by Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, because he kind of proved that there’s no set age or number for when you can do your best,” he told Sidelines Magazine in May. “Certainly, I think along those lines and don’t think there’s a set number when you have to stop.”

“I’d like to go for as long as I can, but I also don’t want to be stupid about it,” he said. “I don’t see a retirement date at this stage. As long as I’m not embarrassing me or the family, I think I can keep going for a while!”

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