Olga Kotelko, the 91-Year-Old Star of Track and Field

by jdroth on 4 April 2011

Most of my life, I’ve been fat. I’ve been a sedentary man, sitting in front of a computer, eating corn chips and Sno-Balls. Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve changed. I’m eating well and have even started exercising. In fact, I exercise a lot.

Physical fitness is hard work. Some days, I wonder why I bother. Then I remind myself that I’m doing this because I want to be healthy for the rest of my life. I’m not pushing myself so that I can do 20 pull-ups by June 30th — though that’s certainly one of my goals — but because I want to be an athlete when I’m fifty. And sixty. And seventy. And eighty. Crazy? Maybe not.

In November, The New York Times magazine published a story about Olga Kotelko, “the incredible flying nonagenarian“. Kotelko is a 91-year-old Canadian who still competes in track-and-field events. Well, “still competes” is misleading. She didn’t start competing until she was 77. Now, “she is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.”

Here’s a video of Kotelko in action:

From the Times article:

“We have in masters track ‘hard’ records and ‘soft’ records,” says Ken Stone, editor of masterstrack.com — the main news source of the growing masters athletic circuit.

“Soft records are like low-hanging fruit,” where there are so few competitors, you’re immortalized just for showing up. But Stone doesn’t consider Kotelko’s records soft, because her performances are remarkable in their own right.

At last fall’s Lahti championship, Kotelko threw a javelin more than 20 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival. At the World Masters Games in Sydney, Kotelko’s time in the 100 meters — 23.95 seconds — was faster than that of some finalists in the 80-to-84-year category, two brackets down.

World Masters Athletics, the governing body of masters track, uses “age-graded” tables developed by statisticians to create a kind of standard score, expressed as a percentage, for any athletic feat. The world record for any given event would theoretically be assigned 100 percent. But a number of Kotelko’s marks — in shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash — top 100 percent.

Reading about Kotelko’s accomplishments, I realized something. Although I was never an athlete when I was in high school, or college, or a young man, or even now — maybe I can become an athlete in middle age. I love physical activity, and I love competition. Where is it written that I can’t say, “To hell with the past, I’m going to live for the future.”?

I want to live to be 91, just like Olga Kotelko. And when I’m that age, I hope to be competing on the field, as well. I think my chances are pretty good. After all, I’ve got nearly fifty years to train.

[The New York Times: The incredibly flying nonagenarian]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Paul Carlson April 15, 2011 at 12:43

JD, this is brilliant and I wish you well on your new athletic career. :)

I cross-country ski as a citizen racer a few times a year, and have been amazed at the accomplishment and longevity of some of the folks I see on the trails.

Always respectful of those in their 70’s, 80’s or beyond skiing the full Birkebeiner or Noquemanon marathons (50k). Amazing.

Perhaps you can add this to your regimen as well! It’s a life-long sport for sure.



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