Older Winter Olympics Athletes Are Grabbing The Glory In Beijing

When the Beijing Olympics close on Feb. 20, IOC President Thomas Bach, by tradition, will call on the “youth of the world to assemble four years from now.” He may consider expanding that invitation to the 2026 Winter Games at Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy to another group: the oldies but goodies.

Start with Frenchman Johan Clarey. He turned 41 last month and in Beijing became the oldest man to win an Olympic medal in Alpine skiing. He took silver in downhill, his first medal in his fourth Olympics.

French downhill skier Johan Clarey won his first medal at age 41 at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
French downhill skier Johan Clarey won his first medal at age 41 at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

FABRICE COFFRINI via Getty Images

“When you’re a medalist, whether you’re 20 or 41, it doesn’t matter,” Clarey said.

Clarey barely outdid Nick Baumgartner. In Beijing, the 40-year-old American won his first Olympic medal — a gold — with fellow American Lindsey Jacobellis in mixed team snowboard cross.

“You’re never too late to take what you want from life,” Baumgartner said. “You let yourself down if you quit too early, doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Gold medalist snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis, 36, and Nick Baumgartner, 40, set age records in Beijing.
Gold medalist snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis, 36, and Nick Baumgartner, 40, set age records in Beijing.

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Baumgartner, a concrete worker/contractor from Michigan, is the oldest snowboarder to win an Olympic medal.

At 36, Jacobellis is no kid herself. She won two gold medals — one with Baumgartner, and the other in snowboard cross.

She became the oldest U.S. woman to win gold in Winter Games history. She’s also the second oldest behind Baumgartner — from any nation — to win an Olympic medal in snowboarding.

Jacobellis also won a silver medal in 2006. The 16 years marked the longest gap between medals for any U.S. woman at the Winter Olympics.

Olympic historian Bill Mallon counted at least 10 athletes in Beijing who were born in the 1970s, meaning they are well into their 40s

The oldest is speedskater Claudia Pechstein, who is almost out of her 40s. She turns 50 just two days after the Winter Olympics close. At Beijing, she became the oldest woman to compete in a Winter Olympics — and the second and only woman to compete in eight Winter Games.

German speedskater Claudia Pechstein turns 50 this month.
German speedskater Claudia Pechstein turns 50 this month.

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The German they call “Grandma” is a five-time gold medalist, and a winner of nine overall. She won’t medal in Beijing — and it won’t matter.

“Every day is harder to get motivated, especially when you feel not so great and the results aren’t coming along,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But I’m still proud of myself. I can still compete with the world’s younger girls.”

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