Vancouver Winter Olympics: Older Athletes Go For Gold

In first 3 days, 25 percent of medals go to Olympians in their 30's.

ByDavid Muir
February 16, 2010, 6:51 PM

Feb. 16, 2010— -- Zhao Hongbo and Shen Zue are the husband-and-wife team who returned to the Olympics one more time.

Skating for 18 years, they finally toppled the Russians, taking the gold medal in the pairs free skating final. Pairs from Russia or the former USSR had been at the top of the podium every winter games since 1960, but not this year.

The Chinese couple is tops in another category -- Zhao at age 36 and Shen, 31, are the oldest Olympians in their competition.

But they're not alone. In just the first three days of the Vancouver Olympics, athletes in their 30s have already won 14 medals. That's a full quarter of all the medals awarded.

Is there something to this? Olympics analysts say yes.

Taking the Chinese as an example -- they pick their athletes, and they have 1.3 billion people to choose from. Still, they sent their oldest skaters.

David Wallechinsky, author of "The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics," told ABC News the Chinese "will only pick out athletes if they think they have a chance for medal, particularly gold medal."

33-Year-Old American Wins Snowboard Cross

And then there's American snowboarder Seth Wescott. At age 33, he came from last place in the final run in snowboard cross to win the gold. He beat the Canadian who was way out in front and way younger, by a full decade.

Wescott said of his win, "I think we'll be the ones that really set that benchmark on how old you can be and be at the top of the world."

When asked whether 30s are the new 20s, Wescott said, "I think so!"

Gold medal-winner Wescott is in better shape now than in his 20s. In his training routine, he does four sets of 100 ball squats just to warm up. Then, he might do an all-day mountain biking trip to help develop endurance.

Older Olympians Also Compete in Summer Games

But Wescott certainly isn't the first Olympian to break age barriers.

We all remember Dara Torres at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejiing.. At age 41, Torres had a body that looked 31 and performed like it was 21. She won three silver medals, becoming the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics.

But it's not just about keeping in shape, it's also about accumulating wisdom.

Take Bode Miller, the skier who was a 20-something hot shot four years ago. Fans followed his social life as much as his skiing, but he flopped in competition.

Older, Wiser Bode Miller Makes a Comeback

Now age 32 and the father of a toddler, Miller is making a comeback, winning bronze in yesterday's men's downhill competition, and has a shot at winning more medals.

Observers say its proof that Olympians can get better with age.

Olympics observer Wallechinsky said it's not just muscle.

"It's mental, too," he said. "When you're a young athlete, 20 or 22, they're dealing with fame, dealing with success. And suddenly they get into their 30s, they have a family, they've calmed down a bit, and they can deal with the sport in a more intelligent way."

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