We should have been celebrating the closing ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics round about now, but of course the world’s biggest sporting event had to be postponed due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Tokyo Games will still take place, but they’ve been postponed to next summer, scheduled to take place between July 23rd and August 8th 2021. It remains to be seen who the oldest competitor will be in Tokyo, but the Olympics has a long tradition of older people representing their home country in various events.
Some Olympic events are better suited to older competitors, such as equestrian (horse riding) categories and various shooting disciplines. The oldest ever Olympic competitor was Briton John Copley, who was 73 when he took part in the 1948 Olympics held in London. It was the last year that the games still included a wider range of competitions covering the arts as well as sport
The talented Mr Copley won a silver medal in the ‘Mixed Painting, Engravings and Etchings’ category, also making him the oldest Olympic medal winner ever. There was some opposition when the international organisers of the games dropped the arts to make it a more sports-orientated event, and, sadly for Mr Copley, the official Olympic records no longer recognise the old arts events.
The average age for a sporting competitor at the summer Olympics is now about 23, but the oldest competitor and medal winner could put almost half a century on that. Swedish marksman Oscar Swahn (pictured) was 72 years old when he competed at the 1920 summer Olympics in Belgium, winning a silver medal in the ‘double shot running deer’ contest. It involved competitors firing rifles from a distance of 100 metres to hit a target moving sideways across a 20-metre wide opening. The competition was meant to simulate shooting at a running deer, hence its name.
His success at the 1920 games means he is still the oldest Olympic medallist of all time, but by then Herr Swahn was already a veteran competitor. At the 1908 summer Olympic in London he won two gold medals in the ‘running deer single shot’ events, one in the individual competition and the other in the team event. He also took a bronze medal in the running deer double shot individual event. At a mere 60 years of age, he was a year younger than the oldest gold medal winner at that time, fellow rifle shooter, Irishman Joshua ‘Jerry’ Millner.
However, Herr Swann would go one better when the 1912 summer Olympics came to his native Sweden. At the age of 64 years and 258 days, he was part of the winning Swedish team in the running deer single shot event, making him the oldest Olympic gold medallist of all time, a record which still stands today. He also won bronze again in the running deer double shot individual event.
In total, the hawkeyed Herr Swahn competed at three Olympic games, winning six medals including three golds, making him officially the oldest Olympian at the time of competition, the oldest competitor to win gold, and the oldest competitor to win any Olympic medal. He died in 1927, at the age of 79, but his family’s Olympic tradition lived on in his son, Alfred.
Also a talented sport shooter like his father, Alfred competed at four Olympic games between 1908 and 1924, winning three gold medals, three silver and three bronze in various shooting disciplines. At times he competed alongside his proud father in team events, and also against him in individual contests, where the two enjoyed a friendly rivalry.
The oldest Olympian of recent times has been Japanese equestrian dressage competitor Hiroshi Hoketsu. He was 71 when he took part in the 2012 games in London, having previously competed in 1964 and 2008. There was an incredible 48-year gap between his first appearance as an Olympic competitor and his last one.
He had hoped to compete at the 2016 games in Brazil and become the oldest ever Olympian at the age of 75, but couldn’t amass the necessary qualifying scores in the run-up to the games because his horse had fallen ill. The oldest competitor at the 2016 games was fellow equestrian Mary Hanna, 61, from Australia.