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Friday, February 21, 2014, 08:48
Oldies are still golden in Sochi
By Agence France-Presse in Sochi, Russia

Oldies are still golden in Sochi
Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 40, is the most successful Winter Olym-pian in history with 13 medals, including eight gold. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI / Agence France-Presse)

They are the 30-somethings and even 40-somethings who refuse to bow out gracefully — the grizzled veterans of the Sochi Olympics who won’t give in to gilded youth.

And they are not just here to admire the mountain scenery, winning medals of every color across a range of physically punishing disciplines against their younger rivals.

US skier Bode Miller, 36, shared bronze in the super-G, a feat matched by 37-year-old Dutch speed skater Bob de Jong in the 10,000m while Russia’s Albert Demchenko, 42, has two silvers in Sochi in the men’s luge.

And then there’s 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who ripped up the record books on Wednesday, becoming the most successful Winter Olympian in history with 13 medals, including eight gold.

When asked about joining alpine greats Hermann Maier and Kjetil Andre Aamodt as multiple medalists in super-G, Miller said: “It means I’m old.”

Jamaican bobsleigh pilot Winston Watts, at 46, is three times the age of 15-year-old Russian ice dance princess Julia Lipnitskaia and still full of bubbling enthusiasm, despite being nowhere near the podium in Sochi.

But even Watts, taking part in his fourth Olympics, feels the tap of Father Time on his shoulder and is ready to hand over to the next generation, describing himself as “old as dirt”.

“Our main goal towards the next Olympics is to have young pilots, get younger athletes to portray their dream to go forward to the South Korean Olympics in 2018,” said the Jamaican, who finished second from bottom in the men’s two-man bobsleigh with brakeman Marvin Dixon.

“I am still going to continue for maybe a year or two and just give it up to younger people so they can bring the legacy on.”

Finnish ice hockey veteran Teemu Selanne, who scored in his team’s quarterfinal victory over the host on Wednesday, is back in Russia 25 years after he first competed in the country — still holding his own in the rough and tumble sport .

The NHL veteran made his Olympic debut in Albertville in 1992 and has now competed at six Olympic Games.

“I am 43, and I play on the same line as guys who are 19 and 20-something,” he said. “It is a good thing. Obviously they are just numbers. Mentally, I think we are the same age.

“Obviously, I am very proud that I have been able to play for so many years, and the passion for the game is the biggest reason I can still play. Of course it is not getting any easier at this age. But I am still trying to play my best level and help the team.”

“Knowing it is going to be my last Olympics, it is a good thing, you can really enjoy it. You see things differently, and just enjoy it,” he said.

Suggesting the Finns are harboring the secret to eternal youth — at least on the ice — fellow 40-something and mother-of-three Hanna-Riikka Valila returned to the sport last year after a decade away and was reselected for Finland.

“I was a little reluctant to return at first. After all, I am old enough to be the mother of many of my teammates,” she said. “But I enjoy playing with these younger girls, they keep me feeling younger.”

Demchenko, who had hoped to compete in Sochi alongside his teenage daughter, refused to be drawn on his future plans.

Japanese ski jumping silver medalist Noriaki Kasai, 41, who is tied with Demchenko for the most Winter Games appearances, shows no sign of wanting to quit.

“Being in the Olympics means being the best in the world and this makes me want to continue. I feel 32,” he said.

And for Bjoerndalen, age appears to be just a number. Was it a factor in his fourth-placed finish in last week’s 12.5km pursuit?

Apparently not. “When I won gold two days ago my age wasn’t a problem,” he said.

 
 
 
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