Older athletes still doing the business

John Davidson Roar Guru

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    Manchester United's Ryan Giggs celebrates after scoring a late equaliser against Celtic. AP Photo/Jon Super

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    Ryan Giggs is still performing at Manchester Giggs, Steve Menzies defies belief in the English Super League, Bernard Hopkins keeps winning boxing world titles and Alessandro Del Piero delights in the A-League.

    Are we entering a new dawn for the aged and experienced sports star? Do we focus too much on youth and the next big thing when it comes to sport, and will we continue to see more older athletes excel at the very top?

    There certainly seems to be a trend of older pros still performing well in leagues and competitions, across different sports, around the world at the moment.

    The previously mentioned Giggs is just one in the Premier League. His Red Devils teammate, Paul Scholes, is 38 and still going strong. Australia’s Mark Schwarzer is 40 and still cutting it in south-west London and for the Socceroos. Brad Friedel is kicking along at Spurs at 41.

    And it’s not just in England, or in football, where the oldies are defying the odds. Milan legends Paolo Maldini and Alessandro played into their 40s in Italy.

    In Australia, Daniel McBreen is a like a fine wine, getting better with age. Del Piero turned 38 in November but is still scoring goals and mesmerising defences.

    Michael Bridges might only be a sprightly 34, but he has earned another season at the Jets with some impressive performances. Patrick Zwaanswijk is a rock at the back for the Mariners at 38.

    In union, Brad Thorn is 38 and playing for the Highlanders in Super Rugby.

    In cricket, 38-year old Ricky Ponting and 37-year old Michael Hussey have recently retired from Australian duties, but are still doing well at state level.

    India’s Sachin Tendulkar remains at the crease, along with the West Indies’ Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

    In rugby league, 35-year old Danny Buderus is still packing down with the Knights and the medical marvel that is Steve Menzies is a regular for the Catalans Dragons at 39.

    Petero Civoniceva stepped down from the NRL last season but the 36-year old is going round for Redcliffe in the Queensland Cup.

    And in the NBA it’s the same. Some of the oldest players in the world’s best basketball league are still some of the best and most successful. I’m talking Tim Duncan (36), Grant Hill (40), Juwan Howard (40), Steve Nash (39), Jason Kidd (39) and Ray Allen (37).

    So perhaps 40 really is the new 30. Or maybe we have too much faith in youth, and should realise that age is really just a number. It is the individual that counts.

    This recent article in The Guardian – http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2013/mar/10/bernard-hopkins-ryan-giggs-science – pointed to Bernard Hopkins’ recent win over Tavoris Cloud for the IBF world title at 48, and mused that advances in nutrition and sports science meant that some athletes can continue performing at a high level well into their 30s and older.

    It may mean a re-evaluation of how we look at age when it comes to sportsmen and women.

    I’ve been a long believer in the adage that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’. Of championing youth and giving young players an opportunity. There’s something exciting about seeing a new player strut their stuff and make their debut, a bit of the unknown and the possibility of what could be.

    But that doesn’t mean we should be discarding those veterans still doing the business before they’re due.

    Experience, mental strength and class should count for a lot on a sports field. You can’t buy the knowledge or sporting intelligence that a Giggs, Hopkins or a Menzies has accrued. It has to be earned.

    The rise of sports science, better diets, increased professionalism, smarter medicine, improved preparation and recovery means that players and athletes can continue for longer than before.

    If they are lucky with injuries, continue to work hard at training and look after their bodies, then it is really their call.

    The strength of the mind, the ability to keep doing the hard yards and remain motivated and dedicated, is crucial.

    Father time gets us all one day, but he can be put off, or even distracted, for a while. Today, maybe even a while longer.

    We might to be coming to an age when the veteran athletes in their middle to late 30s are the rule, not the exception.

    Follow John on Twitter @johnnyddavidson

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