There have been many concerns about legally underage athletes participating in games, more so the Olympic Games. These concerns have foundations on legal ability of those who are underage to make informed decisions on their own during their non-participating time at the Olympics. However, article 42 of the Olympics Chatter (2017 Revision) states that “There may be no age limit for competitors in the Olympic Games other than as prescribed in the competition rules of an International Sports Federation as approved by the International Olympics Committee Executive Board.” What this article means is that bodies like FIFA, the International Volleyball Federation, and others set the minimum age limit for their respective sports at the Olympics.
The Youngest Olympic Athletes
- Dimitrios Loundras was only ten years old when he participated in gymnastics during the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens where he finished third. He remains the youngest Olympic athlete to date.
- At a young age of 13 years and 268 days, Marjorie Gestring, a US Springboard diver won the gold medal in 3-meter springboard diving during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. She became the youngest to win an Olympic gold medal. The International Swimming and the Stanford Athletic both inducted Majorie into their respective Halls of Fame.
- Gaurika Singh of Nepal participated in the 100-meter backstroke during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. She was only 13 years old.
- At the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, the Italian gymnastics team sent Luigina Giavotti (11 years old), Ines Vercesi (12 years old), and Carla Marangoni (12 years old) to represent the country.
- In the 1936 Olympics, Inge Sørensen, a twelve-year-old Danish swimmer took home the bronze medal for her third place in the 200-meter breaststroke.
- American Swimmer Donna Elizabeth de Varona swam in the preliminary heats of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay team for the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics.
- 13 year old Kim Yun-Mi of South Korea won gold in speed-skating during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.
- At 14 years old, Dominique Moceanu helped her US team to win gold in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
- Tera Lipinski won a gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics at the age of 15 years, 8 months, and 10 days, making her the youngest gold metal winner in the individual ladies' singles figure skating event.
- Michael Phelps was only 15 years old when he debuted at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
The Oldest Olympic Athletes
There is not much restriction on the upper age limit for Olympic athletes except for boxing which does not allow athletes over forty years of age.
- During the Rio Olympics, Australia’s Mary Hanna, a 63-year-old took part in equestrian.
- Galen Carter Spencer (archery) and Oscar Swahn (shooting) won gold when they were both 64 years at the 1904 and 1912 Olympics respectively.
- In the 1920 Olympics, Swede Oscar Swahn was 72 years old and remains the oldest participant. He qualified for the 1924 Olympics but did not participate.
- Equally aged 72 years was Austria’s Arthur von Pongracz during the 1936 games where he competed in equestrian.
- Briton Lorna Johnstone participated in Equestrian during the 1972 games at the age of 72 years.
- Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu competed in dressage during the 2012 Olympics at 72 years.
Olympic Sports with Age Limits
Different international federations have specific age limits for their athletes to compete in the Olympics. First, diving requires an athlete to be at least 14 years old at the time of the competitions. Though initially, gymnastics did not impose age limits, controversies over the safety of younger athletes led the governing federation to raise the age to 15 years in 1981, then to 16 years in 1997. As for men’s soccer, only three designated players may be over 23 years old. This rule has a background in the initial need for Olympians to be amateur athletes. Judo and equestrian only admit athletes who are at least 15 and 16 years respectively. Wrestling, Boxing, and Weightlifting set 17 as the minimum age.
Is there an age limit for the Olympics?
Different international federations have specific age limits for their athletes to compete in the Olympics. However, article 42 of the Olympics Chatter (2017 Revision) states that “There may be no age limit for competitors in the Olympic Games other than as prescribed in the competition rules of an International Sports Federation as approved by the International Olympics Committee Executive Board.”
About the Author
Mark is a student at Maseno University and community commentator in Kenya. Mark also has interests in geography, African history, and international development.
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