Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports
Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports
Sports Competition for Adults Over 40: A Participants Guide to 27 Sports

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At seventy I could follow my heart's desire
without transgressing the boundaries of right.

Confucius from Analects

In the United States life expectancy at birth is now 78.2 years (75.6 for men and 80.8 for women). Those who live at least live the "expected" life, the age of 40 marks the approximate mid-point. Because I'm interested in aging and sports, I wanted to take a look at athletes competing closer to the expected end of life. Since I'm 68, I thought I'd examine competitors over 70 years of age. Are there many 70 year olds who still compete in sports? What about 80 year olds? Which sports appear to be particularly attractive to these athletes? How many women over 70 or 80 are still competing?

As usual in this section of the website, I'm using competitors in the national championships of 27 sports to gauge participation with all the caveats and disclaimers that I've presented in my "Introduction to the Data." I'll repeat two important caveats:
て「 Remember "competitors" may be a single individual competing in multiple disciplines. For example, an individual swimmer may compete in four events, thereby becoming four competitors.
て「 The figures reflect only the number of competitors in age-group classes. Certain sports offer age-group classes for 90+; most do not. At the same time there may be older competitors in "open" classes or in younger age-group classes that are not counted here.

Not surprisingly both participation and performance decline after 70. That is, fewer competitors are, with several notable exceptions, performing at a lower level than their younger fellow-athletes. Nevertheless, there are many men and women competing into their seventh, eighth, and ninth decades. For instance, 5,846 athletes over 70 registered for the 2009 Summer National Senior Games in San Francisco -- 4,718 men and 1,146 women. Sixty-four of these registered athletes were over 90!

Let's take a look at how the 27 sports stack up as places for older competitors. The tables below show the number of male and female competitors in the 2009 national championships of 27 sports.

Competitors Over 70 in the 2009 National Championships/
Sport/Event Women 70-89 Women Over 90 Men 70-89 Men Over 90
Alpine Skiing/National Masters 12 0 73 0
Badminton/Senior Nationals 38 0 55 0
Baseball 0 0 30 0
Basketball/Buffalo Masters 0 0 60 0
Canoeing/Marathon Nationals 0 0 26 0
X-C Skiing/National Masters 5 0 15 0
Cycling/Road National Masters 3 0 53 0
Diving/Spring Nationals 9 0 8 0
Fencing/Summer Nationals 9 0 6 0
Handball/National 4-Wall 0 0 79 0
Ice Hockey/Adult Nationals 0 0 0 0
Long-Distance Running/Boston Marathon 12 0 94 0
Orineteering/Individual Nationals 4 0 6 0
Platform Tennis/Nationals 16 0 24 0
Powerlifting/Nationals 0 0 3 0
Racquetball/National Masters 0 0 42 1
Rowing/National Masters 46 0 92 0
Soccer/Veterans' Cup 0 0 0 0
Softball/Huntsman Games 60 0 705 0
Speedskating/Long Track Nationals 0 0 4 0
Squash/Age-Group Nationals 0 0 16 `
Swimming/Short Course Nationals 146 6 291 5
Table Tennis/Nationals 4 0 85 0
Tennis/Hard Court Nationals 125 9 235 17
Track & Field/National Outdoor Masters 90 0 225 21
Triathlon/Age-Group Nationals 3 0 10 0
Volleyball/Adult Open Nationals 0 0 88 0
Weightlifting/American Masters 1 0 39 0
TOTAL 571 15 2,3240 44

The total number of competitors over 70 is 3,021. As this table shows, the sports of softball, swimming, tennis, track & field, and rowing each had more than 100 competitors over 70 in their respective 2009 national championships. The 2009 Huntsman World Senior Games included 49 softball teams competing in the 70+ age groups. On a percentage-of-total-competitors basis, the leading sports were weightlifting, badminton, tennis, table tennis, and handball.

Four sports offered age-group classes for competitors over 90 years of age: racquetball, swimming, tennis, and track & field. A group of oarsman are lobbying USRowing to create an 80+ age-group class. Here are some other indications that competition for athletes is alive and well:

て「 USA Track & Field:Everett Hosack, Waldo McBurney, and John Whitmore hold records in multiple events for the 100-104 age group.
て「 US Masters Swimming: Tom Lane holds three national freestyle records for the 100-104 age group.
て「 US Tennis Association: There are 15 men and 3 women ranked in the over-90 singles
て「 USA Racquetball lists 95 men and 23 women in the 90+ age group.

So, like Confucius, many 70-, 80-, and 90-year olds are following their heart's desire in sports.


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