Does the power of youth or the advantage of age help determine a top-level performer at the Olympics? Often the sport determines the answer. Younger athletes are usually the most successful in gymnastics, where women battle to hold onto the needed strength-to-weight ratio after puberty. Carrying less weight and being shorter gives athletes an edge.
In shooting, experience plays a big role, and getting older may provide an advantage. The prime age for competing in shooting is mid-30s to 40s.
The range in years among athletes competing in the Rio Olympics is striking. The youngest athlete is 13-year-old Nepalese swimmer Gaurika Singh, while Australian equestrian Mary Hanna is 61.
Thirty-six years separate American table tennis player Kanak Jha, who is 16, and U.S. equestrian Phillip Dutton, who is 52. This is the sixth Olympics for Dutton, who won his first medal in individual eventing. U.S. track and field athlete Meb Keflezighi is another American standout at 41.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the youngest at the Rio Olympics:
Gaurika Singh, 13 (Nepal) – Swimming
Michael Phelps was already winning gold at the Olympics before Gaurika Singh was born in 2002. Singh came to Rio aiming to become the youngest female to win an individual event in the women’s 100m backstroke.
Sydney McLaughlin, 16 (United States) – Track and field
America’s youngest track-and-field athlete celebrated her 17th birthday two days after the opening ceremonies. She competes in the 400-meter hurdles amid high hopes that she could in her first Olympic medal.
Kanak Jha, 16 (United States) – Table tennis
Kanak Jha is the youngest of the 555 athletes on the American Olympic team. He is the youngest competitor ever qualified to go after a gold medal in table tennis.
Among the most seasoned athletes pursuing the gold are:
Meb Keflezighi, 41 (United States) – Track and field
A broken hip barred Meb Keflezighi from competing in the 2008 Games. Now the 41-year-old marathoner hopes to add to the silver medal he won at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Jo Pavey – 42 (Great Britain) – Track and field
This 42-year-old woman becomes the first British athlete to perform at the Summer Games for a fifth time when she runs in the 10,000-meter race.
Phillip Dutton – 52 (United States) – Equestrian
Dutton, who turns 53 next month, gave himself an early birthday present by winning a bronze medal in eventing. He combined impressive cross country and jumping routines in his sixth Olympic outing.
Mary Hanna, 61 (Australia) – Equestrian
As Australia’s oldest Olympian at 61, Mary Hanna came to compete and hopes to claim her first medal in her fifth Olympics.