Maybe it’s modern medicine, maybe it’s greater access to information, or maybe they’re just really, really, ridiculously talented. Some sports are being bossed by particular athletes for much longer than usual, but why?
Take tennis for example. In 1992, the average age of the top 10 men’s players was 23.2 years. In 2002 it was 24.5 and in 2015 it was 29.7. Incredibly, the first Grand Slam of 2017, the Australian Open, was won by two 35 year-olds – Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
It is the new “Moneyball” calculus in sports: Who will defy time? And for how long? Take a look at the top 10 athletes over the age of 35 in sport today.
Roger Federer & Serena Williams
At the tender age of 38, Roger Federer has long outstayed his time as one of the best tennis players in the world. Yet, in January 2017, he silenced doubters and critics by lifting the Australian Open. Federer’s victory over his long-term arch rival, Rafael Nadal, was the Swiss’ 18th Grand Slam victory and served as a timely reminder of just how incredibly gifted a player he is. There may never be another player like him again.
Serena Williams has had an astonishing 22-year professional career. Since turning pro in 1995 she has claimed an unbelievable 23 major titles – the latest coming at this year’s Australian Open. Unlike Federer, Williams has not slipped down the rankings in between big performances. Instead, she has shown incredible consistency and power right through her thirties and at 39 years old the american is still the No. 1 ranked female tennis player on the planet.
The 35 year-old Canadian alpine skier recently stunned the skiing world as he claimed victory in the Super G event at the 2017 World Championships, and subsequently became the oldest skiing world champion in history. This was the second World Championship gold for the skiing veteran and cements his place as one of Canada’s best ever skiers.
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Because the zip of his passes have yet to deteriorate, it’s hard to fathom that Tom Brady is now 41 years of age. For an ageing quarter-back one of the first noticeable signs of a decline in ability is for their passing game to slow down, but in his fifth Super Bowl-winning career, Brady had been as effective as ever. Pre-playoffs the Patriots QB boasted 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions during the 12 games he started. And don’t even get us started on what was the most incredible Super Bowl comeback in history!
He’s been entertaining football fans around the world, on and off the pitch, almost 20 years now. The confident Swede was always tipped for a move to the illustrious Premier League and at 35 his opportunity arose in the form of Manchester United. In his own words, Zlatan said that the time for his move was right because everyone else believed that he was too old for the competitive English game. In typical style, “Ibra” has been having one of the most prolific season’s of any Manchester United striker since the Fergie era, amassing 20 goals with 3 months of football still left to play.
Middleweight UFC belt-holder, Bisping, is the oldest of any current division champion in the sport. At 37, Bisping started his career as a light heavyweight, but a move to Middleweight in 2008 was one of the best of his career. In one of the biggest MMA upsets in history, Bisping landed a first round KO on Luke Rockhold to lift in the belt in June 2016. He has since defended his belt against UFC legend Dan Henderson, whom he beat by unanimous decision in October.
Phil Mickelson & Henrik Stenson
The influence Tiger Woods has had on the physical ability of golfers has dramatically changed the face of golf over the past decade, with newer, more athletic golfers coming up through the ranks and dominating the game’s biggest tours. Think Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. But, while golf is becoming a younger man’s game, last summer’s British Open was the stage for one of the most epic major battles in recent times, between 46 year-old Phil Mickelson and 40 year-old Henrik Stenson. Stenson ultimately came out on top, lifting the Claret Jug with a record-breaking -20 total. Current world rankings show that their class in the sport is not temporary, with Stenson ranked No. 3 and Mickelson No. 20.
Professional road-racer, Armstrong, is one of the best Olympic cyclists in history. Now aged 43, her story in uniquely impressive. A three-time olympian, Armstrong has won 3 Olympic golds in the time trial event. In London 2012, after adding a second gold to her medal from Beijing 2008, Armstrong announced her retirement from cycling. However, in a remarkable turn of events she returned to the professional fold in 2015, before winning her third straight Olympic gold medal in Rio last summer.
At 39, Buffon still reigns supreme as the first choice goalkeeper for European giants Juventus and the Italian national side. He is currently the most expensive goalkeeper following his €53m transfer from Parma to Juventus in 2001 and is widely considered by players, managers and pundits as the greatest goalkeeper of all time. He has won 17 domestic titles and a UEFA Cup at club level, while he has also captained Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, individually being named the runner-up for the Ballon D’Or following his displays throughout that year.
The Dallas Mavericks have relied on Dirk Nowitzki to lead their team since he first debuted in 1998. The veteran power forward used an unorthodox style and a golden fadeaway jumper to cement himself as a first-ballot Hall of Fame member. At 38 years old, Nowitzki has clocked enough minutes to break down even the toughest of bodies—nearly 50,000 as of February 2017. It’s hard to tell if this season marks the last time Nowitzki will take to an NBA floor. If it is, basketball will be losing one of its all-time greatest players and characters.
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