The Oldest Olympic Athletes in Sports History

The Oldest Olympic Athletes in Sports History

In a little over a month from now, the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France will commence. It will feature the cream of the athletic crop from each represented country. In turn, they will give their all to win a medal and bring glory to their country. Since the Ancient Greek Olympic Games were reawakened at the turn of the 20th century, athletes have given their all to embark on incredible feats. While the youngest athletes to win medals get the most media coverage, it is the oldest Olympic athletes in sports history that impress the most.

Sports and athletic achievement are considered a feat of youth. And yet, every few years, older, graying athletes enter the competition and surprise everyone. Some of these contenders are well into their 70s, resulting in remarkable athletic feats that sometimes win Gold Medals. For some reason, every single one of the oldest Olympians in history has competed in the Summer Games. Perhaps winter sports are inhospitable to the older generations. Whatever the case, this article will uncover 20 of the oldest Olympic athletes in sports history. Some of them may surprise you. 

To compile a list of the oldest Olympic athletes in sports history, 24/7 Tempo consulted a range of sports, history, and news publications including Top End Sports. Next, we selected athletes who had a record of competing in Olympic games at considerably high ages. After that, we confirmed aspects of each athlete’s history using sites like Olympedia.org and the Guinness World Records. (For supreme Olympic achievements, discover athletes with the most medals ever from the Summer Olympics.)

Oldest Male Olympic Competitors

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For one reason or another, the male competitors rank considerably older at the Olympic Games. Save for a few athletes competing in contests requiring extensive physical exertion like pentathlete Carl Pauen, most of the oldest male Olympic athletes tend towards sports prioritizing accuracy and precision like archery or shooting. Incredibly, the oldest Olympic athlete on record, Oscar Swahn won a silver medal at the age of 72. 

Oscar Swahn, Sweden

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Oscar Swahn was already 72 when he competed for Sweden in the 1920 Summer Olympics. After scoring second in the double shot running deer contest, he became the oldest male athlete to win a Silver Medal and the oldest medalist of all time.

Arthur Von Pongracz, Austria

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An equestrian rider, Arthur von Pongracz competed for his native country of Austria in multiple Olympic games including the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics. His appearance at the 1936 Summer Olympics at the age of 72 made him the second-oldest athlete to ever compete. While he scored 6th place in the Men’s Individual Dressage contest, he failed to win any medals.

Thomas Scott, USA

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Thomas Scott was 71 in 1904, when he competed for the United States of America in the Summer Olympics in Archery. Though he entered the men’s double York round and the men’s double American round contests, he failed to place high enough in the rankings to win any medals. 

William Martin, France

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At 71, William Martin represented his native country of France in the 1900 Summer Olympics. Competing in various sailing contests, Martin came home with two medals, a Silver medal for the .5 to 1-ton sailing race and a Bronze medal in a second .5 to 1-ton race. 

Karl Münich, Austria

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When Karl Münich represented his native country of Austria in the 1912 Summer Olympics, he was 63 years old. Starting the competition, he won the round one pool over his rival, the German fencer Hans Thomson. He failed to place, however, in the follow-up quarter-final pool, losing to Hungarian fencer Béla Bekéssy.

Oscar Rompani, Argentina

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The 1964 Summer Olympics included Oscar Rompani, competing in rowing for Argentina. Rompani competed as a coxswain rower in the 1964 Summer Olympics. Though he competed in the men’s coxed pair rowing contest, he failed to achieve a considerable ranking. Even still, this made Rompani the oldest rower to ever compete in the Olympic games at the ripe old age of 60.

Zhiwen He, Spain

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Zhiwen He represented Spain through several Summer Olympics, including 2004, 2008, and 2012 in table tennis. But it was his entry into the 2016 Summer Olympics at the age of 54, however, that made him one of the oldest competitors. He failed to win any medals, achieving a ranking position of 33. 

Carl Pauen, Germany

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The first modern German pentathlete was also one of the oldest to ever compete. Carl Pauen represented his native country in the 1912 Summer Olympics at the age of 53. Remarkably, Pauen competed in the modern men’s pentathlon. Unfortunately, he failed to finish. 

Percy Wyer, Canada

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Although born in England, Percy Wyer chose to represent Canada in the 1928 and 1936 Summer Olympics. His appearance at the 1939 Games competing in the marathon made him the oldest track and field male competitor in history at the age of 52. He placed 30th in the men’s marathon competition and failed to take home any medals. 

Hugo Toeppen, USA

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Hugo Toeppen, a welterweight wrestler, was 51 when he represented the United States in the welterweight wrestling freestyle contest in the 1904 Summer Olympics at the age of 51. Though he lost in the quarter-finals, he remains the oldest male athlete to ever compete in wrestling at an Olympic Games. 

Oldest Female Olympic Competitors

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While female Olympic athletes tend toward a younger age even for the oldest competitors, it does not detract from their accomplishments. While the oldest male Olympic athletes tend towards sports requiring precision and accuracy, the female competitors run the gamut from precision games like archery to physically demanding contests like rowing or cycling. 

Lorna Johnstone, Great Britain

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Lorna Johnstone was born into a family of considerable wealth. She grew up riding horses and competed in numerous equestrian and dressage events. This led to a lucrative equestrian career with two appearances at the Olympic Games representing Great Britain. Her final appearance at the 1972 Olympics, however, made her the oldest female competitor ever, having turned 70 years old a few days before the games started. While she placed 10th in the team open contest, she failed to earn any medals. 

Lilian Williams

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Also known as Lady Hickman, Lilian Williams represented Great Britain in the 1960 Summer Olympics at the age of 65. Though she placed 11th in the individual open equestrian competition, she failed to earn any medals.

Eliza Pollock, USA

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At the age of 63, Eliza Pollock represented the United States of America. She competed in archery at the 1904 Summer Olympics, which took place in Missouri. There, she won Bronze Medals in the Double National Round and the Double Columbia Round. She also won a Gold Medal in the team round, making her the oldest woman to ever win an Olympic Gold Medal. 

Xia Lian Ni, Luxembourg

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Born in China, Xia Lian Ni, later emigrated to Europe before settling in Luxembourg. After that, she represented Luxembourg in numerous Olympic games including the 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Games. Her appearance at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games at the age of 58 made her one of the oldest Olympic athletes in sports history. While she placed 33rd in the singles, women’s table tennis contest, she failed to earn any medals.

Sue Nattrass, Canada

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Introduced to trap shooting by her father at an early age, Sue Nattrass went on to compete in a litany of Olympic Games. Starting in 1976, Nattrass represented Canada in various shooting competitions at over a half-dozen Olympic Games. This made her one of the few athletes who’ve competed in six Olympic Games. Her appearance at the 2008 Summer Olympics at the age of 57, however, made her one of the oldest female competitors in history. There, she ranked 11th in the trap, women’s competition but failed to earn any medals. 

Lesley Thompson-Willie, Canada

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Representing her native country of Canada, rowing coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie competed in a whopping eight Olympic games throughout her athletic career, earning multiple medals in the process. Impressively, Thompson-Willie did not take up the sport of rowing until she was in her mid-20s.

Considered the best female rower of her generation, she earned three Silver medals, a Bronze medal, and a Gold medal during her Olympic career. While she placed 5th at the 2016 Summer Olympics, just shy of a medal in the rowing eights contest, it made her one of the oldest Olympic athletes in history at the age of 56. 

Maxine Mitchell, USA

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A veteran fencer, Maxine Mitchell competed in various competitions throughout her career including the Pan American Games, where she earned three foil gold medals for her team. Her appearance at the 1968 Summer Olympics representing the United States in fencing, however, made her one of the oldest female competitors at age 51. Though she ranked 10th in the foil team women’s fencing contest, she failed to earn any medals. 

Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, France

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Considered one of the best female cyclists of all time, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli represented France in cycling throughout multiple Olympic Games. Starting with the 1984 Summer Olympics, she earned two Silver Medals, a Bronze Medal, and a Gold Medal at her various Olympic appearances throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

Her appearance at the 2008 Summer Olympics at the age of 49, however, made her one of the oldest cyclists to ever compete. Though she placed 4th in the women’s individual time trial, she failed to earn any medals. In recent years, her list of medals and reputation has been called into question due to various allegations of doping and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. 

(For other athletic controversies, discover the top corruption scandals in the history of sports.)

Nicky Green-Bethwaite, Australia

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Nicky Green-Bethwaite represented the country of Australia in the sport of sailing at the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 2004 Summer Olympics. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, Green-Bethwaite was 49 years old, making her one of the oldest female athletes in Olympic history. While she ranked 13th in the three-person keelboat women’s contest, she failed to take home any medals. 

Lourdes Klitzkie, Guam

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A long-distance and marathon runner by trade, Lourdes Klitzkie was 48 when she represented Guam in the 1988 Summer Olympics. Though she competed in the marathon contest, she finished the race ranked 63rd and failed to take home any medals.

(For the other end of the spectrum, meet the youngest Olympic gold medalists in history.)

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