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Athletics World Champions are Getting Older


Track and field world champions are getting older again, after a near decade-long spell at the start of the millennium when their average age was getting progressively younger.

Usain Bolt's three gold medals at Moscow made him the most successful athlete in World Championship history.

Exclusive analysis by insidethegames of the ages of winners of the 43 individual events included in the 14th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, which drew to a close in Moscow yesterday, shows they were on average 26.35 years old.

This is around three months older than the 26.07-year average age of winners at the previous World Championships in Daegu in 2011 and almost a year more than the 25.42-year average of winners from Berlin in 2009.

Although the Moscow average is a good six months below the 26.88-year figure for Edmonton 2001, athletics fans must hope that the rising trend is not an indication that young talent is being lured away from the sport by more attractive alternatives.

After the highpoint of the London 2012 Olympics, 2013 has hardly been a banner year for athletics, with Moscow 2013 preceded by positive drugs tests attributed to a number of high-profile athletes.

The sport, moreover, has now been joined by aquatics and gymnastics on the top rung of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ladder for the purposes of determining how much money particular sports receive from the Olympic Games.

For all the heart-warming, gold medal-winning feats of Britain’s Mo Farah and Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the sport’s immediate prospects look to hinge as much as at any point in the past five years on the exploits of one man: Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter cum showman, whose three gold medals at Moscow made him the most successful athlete in World Championship history.

And not even Bolt managed to conjure a world record for his Muscovite audience.

The Russian capital was not bereft of new, young world champions making a name for themselves.

Teenager Mohammed Aman won the men’s 800 meters for Ethiopia, while 21-year-olds Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago and Brianna Rollins of the United States raced to breakthrough victories in the men’s 400m hurdles and women’s 100m hurdles respectively.

Aleksandr Ivanov and Elena Lashmanova, Russian winners of the men’s and women’s 20km walks, are 20 and 21 respectively.

But given the number of big-name absentees, the list of young victors was surprisingly short; you would think, furthermore, that Kenyan world record holder and world and Olympic champion, David Rudisha, would have provided the stiffest of competition for Aman in Moscow, had he not been absent injured.

Between 2001 and 2009, the average age of individual winners at successive World Championships fell steadily from 26.88 years in 2001 to 26.38 years in 2003, 25.81 in 2005, 25.74 in 2007 and 25.42 in 2009, still the lowest since the start of the century.

The women’s discus emerges as something of a specialist event for veteran athletes, accounting for the two oldest world champions of the 21st century – Ellina Zvereva of Belarus, who won the 2001 World Championship aged 40 and Franka Dietzsch of Germany, who was 39 when she triumphed, for a third and final time, in 2007.

Inside the Games is a blog of the London Organizing Committee that helped put on the 2012 Summer Olympics. This article is reprinted here with permission of the authors of the blog.


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