On the eve of Olympic competition, and minutes away from opening ceremonies, we have another nugget for swim fans to keep an eye on. Coming into Rio, just eight swimmers (five men and three women) have won gold medals after the age of 30, none of which were earned at the same Olympic games. That figure could easily increase by 50% in the next week, as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Laszlo Cseh, David Plummer, and Anthony Ervin are all over 30 years of age.
Swimmers who have won Olympic gold medals over the age of 30
|Swimmer||Country||Year||# of golds|
|Inge de Bruijn||Netherlands||2004||1|
Remarkably, Ursula Happe of Germany was the only swimmer over 30 in an eighty year period from 1920 to 2000 to win gold. The seemingly-ageless Dara Torres won a pair of golds in 2000, with an over-30 athlete coming up golden at each subsequent Olympics. That’s in stark contrast to what we expect in Rio.
At the very least, the odds suggest we’ll see at least three of these athletes win gold. Chad le Clos could potentially sweep the fly events, but Phelps and Cseh are considered favorites by many. Even if the two elder statesmen come up empty against le Clos, Phelps and Lochte are the two best 200 IMers in history. Phelps (400 medley relay, potentially both freestyle relays) and Lochte (800 freestyle relay) also have opportunities on relays.
With the world’s second fastest 100 backstroke time this Olympiad (and just 0.01 behind the leader), David Plummer is both an individual contender, as well as a member of Team USA’s 400 medley relay team. Considering the Americans are undefeated in Olympic competition in the event and boast the world’s best relay on-paper combo, Plummer’s odds are looking good. Ervin’s individual event (50 free) and relay (400 free relay) odds are lower than Plummer’s, but given the speed he showed at Trials, both are still within reason.
While the results of next week may just be a matter of coincidence (three of the greatest swimmers in history all just hit the 30 mark this Olympiad, and are still competing), it’s more than likely this will be more common in the future. Just check out the average ages on Team USA’s roster from every Olympics since 1984:
Team USA average age, by Olympics
Many of these numbers are courtesy of a 2013 article from Matt Barbini on usaswimming.org
It’s no surprise the rise over the past 8-12 years came during the rise of Michael Phelps and the internet era. With continuously expanding financial opportunities, more and more swimmers worldwide are able to support themselves to compete later in their careers. Looking ahead to Tokyo in 2020, Team USA stalwarts Nathan Adrian and Conor Dwyer will be over 30 (along with Lochte and Phelps, who haven’t completely closed the door).