The Sporting Veterans

Swiss Roger Federer (ATP 3)) pictured in action during a tennis match against Serbian Novak Djokovic (ATP 2) in the Men’s Singles Semifinal match of the ‘Australian Open’ tennis Grand Slam, Thursday 29 January 2020 in Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia.BELGA PHOTO PATRICK HAMILTON (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/Belga/Sipa USA)

If Joe Biden is elected President of the United States, he will make history as the oldest man to ascend to the office of president.

While many political commentators have questioned whether he will be able to handle the rigours of the office Biden could perhaps point to a series of athletes who continue at the very top of their respective sports despite science saying they are past their prime.

Next week, the attention of the world will switch from the drama in Washington D.C. to the drama in Georgia as golf veteran Tiger Woods will hope once again triumph over his younger rivals and secure his sixth green jacket at the age of 44.

For many sportsman and woman, their careers tend to peak during their twenties. A 2011 study by French researchers claimed the period when athletes begin to decline is 26.

However, there have been notable examples of sporting stars not just playing beyond their peak years, but also consistently continuing to compete and win at the highest level possible.

The biggest example of an athlete continually defying the age barrier is the king of the tennis court – Roger Federer.

The Swiss sensation, who began playing junior tennis in 1993, won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003.

Fifteen years and 19 grand slams titles later, Federer is still one of the games most feared and revered plays in the history of the game and is still competing at the top level.

Despite double knee surgery this year, Federer has no immediate plans to retires and still sits in the top 5 thanks in no small part to a ferocious determination to remain at the top.

Equestrian sport has also witnessed a selection of athletes defying logic and remaining at the top.

Nick Skelton, the British show jumper reached the pinnacle of his career by winning gold at the 2012 Olympic games, aged 54. Skelton was not the only 50 plus rider to win gold in the GB team, with teammate Peter Charles aged 52. These wins are made more impressive considering that show jumping is a sport that involves potentially dangerous injuries due to the risk of falling of the horse.

Perhaps the most famous examples of an athlete playing into middle age belongs to football. Sir Stanley Matthew’s played the professional game for a mammoth 32 years before he eventually retired at the age of 50. His career however did not decline in the years once he had past his ‘peak”.

Matthews almost single handily won the FA Cup for Blackpool in 1953 in a game now known as the ‘Matthews Final at the age of 38. While he also won the Ballon d’Or aged 41 in 1956.

In addition to his triumphant club career, Matthews also holds the record for the oldest player to play for the England men’s national team. His last cap came at the age of 42 years old against Denmark. With the recent trend of players sacrificing international football to prolong their club careers it is highly likely that Matthews will remain as the oldest player to play for England.

In more recent times there have been older players who have continued to perform at the highest level, despite science declaring them past their peak. Japanese footballer Kazuyoshi Miura is perhaps the most famous as he continues to play professional football at the age of 53, as well as being recognised by FIFA as the world’s oldest player as well as the record for oldest goal scorer.

Meanwhile in women’s football, Brazilian international Formiga was the Seleçãos firstchoicecentralmidfielderduring the 2019 World cup aged 42 after beginning her journey with the South American giants at the age of 17 in 1995.

The midfield veteran may accept that she cannot escape the impending spectre of retirement but after signing a one-year contract extension with French side Paris Saint-Germain this year it is clear that she has her eyes on an Olympic swansong to end her career.

It is that determination and desire for success that is evident throughout all the athletes that have been mentioned that make sure they keep challenging at the top of the game.