The Age of Excellence: Meet the Oldest and Youngest Summer Olympics Competitors

Age is just a number for these incredible athletes.

Throughout history, athletes have wowed audiences with their skills in the games to win gold, silver or bronze at the Olympics.

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But for many competitors just being at the event is more than enough, especially those who have broken records based on their age.

Age is Just a Number

In 1920, Sweden’s Oscar Swahn became the oldest male Olympian ever to participate in the games. He was 72 years, 281 days old when he competed in Antwerp, Belgium, in the shooting event. Swahn, who died in Stockholm in 1927, still holds the record.

Other men who have come close to shattering Swahn's record have been too young, but only by a matter of days. Austrian equestrian Aurthur von Pongracz was 72 years, 49 days old when he participated in the 1936 Berlin games in Nazi Germany.

Most recently, Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu, 71, participated in the 2012 games in London. At the time, Hoketsu told The Telegraph: “People say I’m a miracle. But I’m just an ordinary old man.”


He told Yahoo! News in 2012 that his secret for getting in shape for the Olympics is “to have a good life, enjoy yourself and do the things that make you happy.”

The oldest female ever to compete in the Olympics was Lorna Johnstone. The British equestrian was 70 years old when she competed in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. Since then, no woman has come close to her record.

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This year in Rio, Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan will compete in the games as the oldest gymnast to ever take the mat. At 40 years old, she made her Olympic debut at the ’92 games in Barcelona.


The Golden (and Silver and Bronze) Age

During the 1912 games in Stockholm, Swahn became the oldest male gold medal winner when he was 64 and 280 days old. The shooter still holds the record and eight years later, he broke another record by becoming the oldest male to ever compete in the games.

Swahn also holds the record for oldest gold medal winner, previously held by American archer Galen Carter Spencer, who obtained the title during the 1904 games in St. Louis. At the time, Spencer was 64 years old, nine months younger than Swahn, when he took gold in 1912.

While these men may have taken home the gold, the eldest medal winner in history is British graphic artist John Copley. Copley was awarded the silver when he was 73 in the art competition that ran between the 1912 and 1948 games. He won the medal at the 1948 games in London.

The eldest female medalist title has not been contested in 112 years. American archer Lida Peyton “Eliza” Pollock won the title at the 1904 games in St. Louis. The eagle-eyed athlete was 63 years and 333 days old when she won with a group of fellow American archers.

British archer Sybil “Queenie” Newall took home gold during the 1908 games in London when she was 53 years and 275 days old. She is the closest to beating Pollock’s record.

The Kids Are All Right

The youngest male to ever compete in the modern games has a record that hasn’t been broken in 120 years.

At the first modern games in 1896 in Athens, Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras was just 10 years and 218 days old when he competed. That same year, he became the youngest gold medal winner.

Loundras shattered the record held by German gymnast Klaus Zerta, who took home gold at 13 years and 283 days old at the 1960 games in Rome.

The youngest female athlete to ever compete in the Olympics was Italian gymnast Luigina Giavotti who was just 11 years and 301 days old at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. She and her 2 other teammates, both 12, took home silver.

The youngest woman to ever win a medal was Inge Sorensen of Denmark. She was 12 years and 24 days old when she won bronze for her 200m Breaststroke at the 1936 games in Berlin.

The youngest female to win gold was American swimmer Donna Elizabeth de Varona who won the medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics at age 13.

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At this year’s games in Rio, the youngest athlete competing is Nepalese swimmer and earthquake survivor Gaurika Singh, who swim for her country at 13 years and 255 days old. Singh is also a survivor of a devastating earthquake that rocked Nepal in 2015.


"My dad is coming with me to Rio, and my grandparents and friends at school are really proud but they are really good at their own things," Singh told The Statesmen.

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