For her 50th birthday, Canadian curler Cheryl Bernard informed her husband that they would mark the occasion by hiking eight hours a day along Italy’s rugged Amalfi coast. “Seriously?” he replied.
Seriously. Also unsurprising. After all, one year later, Bernard would become the oldest Olympian competing at the Pyeongchang Winter Games — an achievement that was not born of holidays spent knocking back margaritas poolside.
Bernard’s story is a familiar one among this year’s set of older Olympians, who credit consistency, better knowledge of nutrition and age-won wisdom for the longevity of their careers. And longer careers may soon become the norm for elite athletes, with huge advances in sports medicine helping Olympians stay competitive into middle age, defying the idea that the Games are reserved for the young.
“The age of some of the best in the world in their sport has gone up over time, like the Roger Federers of the world, in a number of endurance sports,” says Robert Litchfield, a Canadian orthopedic surgeon who has operated on around 30 Olympic-level skiers.
“It’s not a given anymore that you’d become weaker and slower with aging,” he says. “You can maintain a lot of physical tools if you take good care of yourself — and the advantage (is) with age comes wisdom.”
For Bernard, taking good care of herself is a habit. Though she retired from competitive curling four years ago, she jumped at the chance to join Canada’s Olympic curling team as an alternate in Pyeongchang.
She was ready: Even in retirement, she had continued to curl and maintain her usual fitness regimen. She does 90 minutes of cardio and weight lifting a day, at least six days a week. She loves going for walks with her dog and, of course, hiking with her husband. She follows a protein-heavy diet that mainly consists of vegetables and meat, with the occasional glass of red wine.
“It’s just my lifestyle. It’s who I am,” Bernard says. “I feel like age is such a number these days. It’s changed. I look at people now and I think, ‘There’s no way you’re 40.'”
Consistency has also been key to 45-year-old Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai’s success. Kasai is competing in his eighth Olympics at Pyeongchang — a record — in a sport where many retire in their 20s. He trains the same way he has since he was young, and mirrors the workouts of his younger competitors. He’s even written an advice book on how people can achieve their best physical and mental health after age 40.
“I feel 20,” he said with a grin last week, shortly after completing a 99-meter jump.
Kasai also attributes experience to his continued success. He still learns something from every jump and studies his performance to see what can be improved.
That’s important, says Litchfield, who notes that older athletes actually have an edge over youngsters when it comes to familiarity of the competition sites, which they often have visited many times. At the outdoor ski venues, Litchfield says, a seasoned athlete would know about shortcuts, or where any little bumps in the course may be.
Then there is the key driver universal to all Olympians, young and old: competitiveness.
“Many say it is just not possible to be successful at the Games at this age,” 45-year-old German speed skater Claudia Pechstein told German agency DPA. “I want to prove them wrong.”
Pechstein is having another standout year, capped with World Cup victories in the 5,000-meter race and the mass start, beating competitors half her age. “It’s incredible,” she said. “I could be their mother.”
The flipside to consistency for Olympians is knowing how to adapt their regimens to their changing bodies.
U.S. men’s hockey captain Brian Gionta, who turned 39 last month, is the oldest U.S. men’s player and one of the oldest players in the men’s tournament.
For him, growing older as an athlete has meant more rehab and more preparation; where he once may have been able to hop off a bus and hit the ice, he now needs to make sure his body is really warmed up and moving properly before a game.
“You have to adjust a lot of it over the years, but it just becomes a lifestyle. … It’s not something that you turn 38, all of a sudden you’ve got to change everything,” he says. “It’s a slow progression when you start getting up there in the 30s and stuff. You start changing some things and taking care of your body, listening to your body a little more.”
Figuring out how to optimize an aging athlete’s training routine has helped extend their careers far beyond what they might have been even just a decade ago, says Shawn Arent, director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University in the U.S.
Huge advances in sports science in the past 10 to 15 years have produced better understanding of what causes the breakdown of an athlete’s body, and how to delay it.
Elite older athletes have also usually learned how to cope with the doubts and emotional strain that often wreak havoc on rookies’ minds, Arent says. At 33, American skier Lindsey Vonn is in the running to become the oldest woman to win an Olympic alpine medal despite suffering major crashes and injuries. That, Arent says, is a testament to her willpower and mental toughness.
“If you’re an athlete who has been able to physically maintain themselves, you now have the physical ability plus the mental upshot that you might not have had as a younger athlete to maintain yourself,” he says.
Vonn noted that overcoming the mental aspect of the sport did indeed take time.
“It took me until my third Olympics to really figure out how to deal with the pressure,” she told reporters in Pyeongchang.
Heading into the Olympic curling trials, Bernard took up meditation to help her quiet her mind. But at this point in her life, she’s been through enough that it takes a lot to really rattle her. That’s a lesson she hopes to impart to her teammates, who are all around two decades younger than her.
“I think the greatest realization for me with these girls is this is just a sport,” she says. “It’s the Olympics, yes, it’s the biggest thing they’ll ever play in, but this is just a game, and you’ve got family and people and things that are so important in life. … It dials it all back to what it should be.”
In the end, though, there’s the simplest explanation of all for how these older Olympians are still going strong:
“Genetically,” Arent says, laughing, “most of these guys are just superior.”
Associated Press writers Stephen Whyno and Raf Casert contributed to this report. Follow Kristen Gelineau on Twitter at @KristenGelineau. More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org/
The Latest Russians Dominate Womens Figure Skating
The Latest on the Pyeongchang Olympics (all times local):
The Russians have come to dominate women’s figure skating and they showed it by sweeping the top two medals at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Even their closest rivals acknowledge how much ground they have to make up. But what’s much more difficult to pin down is whether it’s possible to close the gap and what it will take for someone to rise to the Russians’ level.
Alina Zagitova won individual gold with 239.57 points Friday, beating her training partner and close friend Evgenia Medvedeva by less than two points.
That they would stand on the top two steps of the podium at Gangneung Ice Arena was about as predictable as the sun rising over the nearby Sea of Japan, the only question left being what order they would finish.
Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond put together two clean programs for what she claimed was the first time ever, and she still only managed 231.02 points, leaving her a distant — but quite happy — third.
South Korea’s women’s curling team has become a global sensation. And they don’t even know it.
The team known as the “Garlic Girls” came into the Pyeongchang Games as the underdog who few believed would medal. Now they’re number one in the rankings.
They have earned worldwide attention for their fierce talent and funny personality.
But their coach has shielded them from publicity and the women agreed to turn off their phones before the Games. So they have no idea they’re superstars.
They got their name from their hometown of Uiseong, known for its prolific garlic production.
Alina Zagitova has won the women’s figure skating competition, becoming the first Russian gold medalist at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The 15-year-old Zagitova edged her friend and training partner Evgenia Medvedeva to end the gold drought for the Olympic Athletes from Russia. That’s the designation given to the nation’s competitors after Russia was officially banned by the IOC for a doping scandal.
Zagitova and Medvedeva tied in the free skate, a rare occurrence, but Zagitova had won the short program Wednesday, so she got gold.
Kaetlyn Osmond has won bronze, giving Canada four overall medals in figure skating.
The Americans secured their worst showing in modern-era Olympic women’s figure skating with Mirai Nagasu failing to get any lift on her triple axel and popping a triple lutz.
The 24-year-old Nagasu was fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games but never got going in the individual competition at the Pyeongchang Games after helping the U.S. win a team bronze. She hit her triple axel in that event, becoming the first American woman and third overall to do so in an Olympics. But she slipped below U.S. champion Bradie Tennell in the standings after Friday’s free skate, with 2017 national champ Karen Chen just behind.
With the top six skaters to go, the Americans almost certainly will wind up ninth, 10th and 11th. Since World War II, at least one American woman finished sixth or higher.
Canadian defenseman Jocelyne Larocque says she wishes she hadn’t taken off her silver medal almost immediately after it was placed around her neck at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Larocque issued a statement through Team Canada apologizing to the IOC, International Ice Hockey Federation, the Pyeongchang Olympic Organizing Committee, the Canadian Olympic Committee, Hockey Canada and her teammates and fans.
She says her emotions got the best of her Thursday after a 3-2 shootout loss to the United States and she meant no disrespect. Larocque says she takes being a role model and representing Canada seriously and is truly sorry that her actions did not represent her values or those of her family and team.
The general manager of Canada’s national team programs says they expect professionalism and sportsmanship from their players.
American ski great Lindsey Vonn not only won a bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics, she also had a chance to scatter some of her grandfather’s ashes on a rock near the mountain where the downhill races were run.
Don Kildow served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Korean War in the 1950s.
“I know that it would mean a lot to him to be back here, a part of him is in South Korea always,” says Vonn, who shared her story with The Associated Press and the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
Vonn says she scattered parts of Don Kildow’s ashes “just a few days ago” on a rock that she was told was special when she visited South Korea last year to be named a Pyeongchang Olympic ambassador. She described the location as “right by the men’s downhill start.”
Vonn won a bronze medal in the downhill , but skied out of Thursday’s slalom leg of the Alpine combined in what was likely her last Olympic race. Later in the day, a group of elderly South Korean men gave her family some gifts and a letter of thanks to mark her grandfather’s service during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Canada’s Kelsey Serwa has raced to victory in women’s skicross, giving her a gold medal to go with the silver she won in Sochi four years ago.
Serwa raced to the lead early in the final and was well in front by the time she reached the bottom of the course at Phoenix Snow Park. Canadian teammate Brittany Phelan made an impressive pass late in the run to finish second.
Serwa’s victory came two days after Canada’s Brady Leman took gold in the men’s event.
Switzerland’s Fanny Smith held off Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund for bronze.
While Serwa and Phelan gave the Canadians a one-two finish, teammates Marielle Thompson and India Sherrit were not so fortunate. Thompson, the defending Olympic champion, clipped a ski in the first elimination round and did not finish. Sherrit left the course in a medical sled following a frightening crash. There was no immediate update on her status.
The final competitive event of figure skating at the Pyeongchang Games is underway with Russian rivals Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva dueling for the gold medal.
They are so far ahead of the rest of the field after their short program that everyone else is competing for bronze in the free skate. Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada is currently third, but Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto are within striking distance.
The trio U.S. women are well off the pace and need a big rally in their free skates to avoid the worst showing by the American contingent in Olympic history.
The Russians have a good shot at winning their first gold medal of the Pyeongchang Olympics when teenager figure skaters Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva take the ice for the women’s free skate.
Zagitova and Medvedeva were in first and second place, respectively, after the women’s short program, where they had the highest scores ever. First Medvedeva broke the record she’d set the week before during the team competition, then Zagitova broke that record.
Americans Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are unlikely to medal after struggling in their short programs.
Also Friday, speedskaters will compete in the men’s 1,000 meter. In hockey it’s the Czech Republic vs. the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Canada vs. Germany to determine who will play for gold.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org
Alpine Skiing Vonns Last Olympics Shiffrin Isnt Buying It
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – American Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic giant slalom gold medalist in Pyeongchang, isn’t buying the “official line” that her team mate Lindsey Vonn won’t take part in the next Games in Beijing.
Vonn, downhill bronze medal winner this week and champion in Vancouver eight years ago, has repeatedly said this is probably her final appearance at the Olympics.
But, after Vonn’s sisters cautioned not to rule out the 33-year-old making one final appearance in China in 2022, Shiffrin also expressed scepticism.
”It’s funny, because every time I hear anybody saying anything about this it’s ‘most likely, probably, maybe, we’ll see but not sure’.
“I‘m like, ‘Knowing Lindsey, I don’t believe her’,” Shiffrin told a news conference on Friday.
Shiffrin has emerged as the next star of the U.S. Alpine skiing team but the 22-year-old dismissed the idea she is taking over from Vonn.
“I don’t think I can fill her shoes the way she has worn them … I haven’t had a lot of thoughts about it because first of all I don’t think Lindsey thinks she’s done yet, or passing the baton and I don’t see myself taking the baton,” she said.
Pyeongchang downhill champion Sofia Goggia also believes there is a chance of Vonn carrying on for another four years.
The Italian contacted Vonn on Thursday and told Italian media she had urged the American not to quit before Beijing
“You are too much of a champion, you can manage (your schedule), you can only do the downhills,” she told the American.
Vonn confirmed she had heard from Goggia.
“She wrote me last night – she wanted to talk to me and she was trying to convince me to keep going until 2022. It means a lot to me that she enjoys racing with me as much as I enjoy racing with her, I respect her very much, especially because of all the injuries she’s had as well,” Vonn said.
”I told her – if I can, if I physically could continue for four years then I probably would, as long as I considered myself still a competitor.
“But four years is a really long time, I told her that. She says she is going to keep trying to convince me but we will see,” added Vonn.
Minnesota-born Vonn needs six more World Cup wins to beat Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 victories and become the most successful skier of all-time.
“I am not going to stop ski racing until I break it,” Vonn said.
“This year didn’t start off the way I had hoped…but I was still able to win four races. I think next year will go a lot better also with my focus shifting to the World Cup instead of the Olympics,” she added.
“It will give me more time to really be prepared for each race and not focused on peaking for February. I think next season I can get it done because I am not getting any younger,” she said.
Reporting by Simon Evans,
Manchester United Defender Matteo Darmian Set To Join Juventus With Deal Already Agreed Between Clubs
JUVENTUS have reportedly reached an agreement with Manchester United for defender Matteo Darmian.
Italian publication Calciomercato are reporting that a deal has been done for the 28-year-old as he looks to get his career back on track.
Getty – Contributor Matteo Darmian has reportedly already agreed to join Juventus in the summer
The Italian international has been frozen out by Jose Mourinho this season, and his future is unclear as the United boss looks to shuffle his defensive pack in the summer.
Darmian started the FA Cup game at Yeovil but has not be seen in the Premier League since the win at Arsenal on December 2.
Juve could offer an escape route back to Italy as they look to replace Stephan Lichsteiner, who is set to leave at the end of the season.
Darmian has been linked with moves away from Old Trafford in the last three transfer windows after failing to dislodge Antonio Valencia at right-back.
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