Feature: Older athletes chase Olympic dreams at Beijing 2022

(Xinhua) 08:40, February 11, 2022

BEIJING, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- On the slopes and ice of Beijing 2022, there are several athletes who have come to compete with those 10 or 20 years younger than them. In addition to chasing their Olympic dreams, these older athletes are also racing against the clock.

Let's learn more about these practicing the Olympic motto of "Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together." Regardless of their age, their resilience in the quest for the highest Olympic honor always remains the same.

Claudia Pechstein (Germany, 49, speed skating)

Pechstein, who will turn 50 two days after the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, has become the first-ever female Olympian competing in eight Winter Olympics. She served one of Germany's two flag bearers at the opening ceremony on Feb. 4.

In the women's 3,000m speed skating, she is competing against Ahenaer Adake from China, who is 22 years old. Pechstein finished last among 20 skaters and saw her 20-year Olympic record shattered by Dutch skater Irene Schouten, but the five-time gold medalist said she was satisfied.

"I was not too fast, but I smiled when I crossed the finish line because today I've achieved my goal to race in my eighth Olympic Games and it was important for me," she said.

Jaqueline Mourao (Brazil, 46, cross-country skiing &biathlon)

Mourao made her Olympic debut in mountain biking at Athens 2004 and competed at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. The versatile athlete has competed in cross-country skiing and biathlon at the Winter Games, becoming the only Brazilian athlete to have participated at eight Olympic Games and the only cross-country skier who was born in the 1970s at Beijing 2022.

"In 2008, I wasn't a very mature athlete, mentally," Mourao said. "Today - perhaps because I've become a mother twice and had all these other experiences - I'm more focused on myself and my performance and can better channel the energy at what I want to do."

Johan Clarey (France, 41, Alpine skiing)

Clarey won the men's downhill silver medal in his fourth Olympic appearance.

"I knew I only had one chance left in my career to get a medal in the Olympics. I was just pushing a lot and taking a lot of risks," he noted.

The Frenchman has several records to his name in the latter portion of his career. In January 2021, he became the oldest Alpine skier to make the podium in a World Cup race and extended his own record by finishing second in the men's downhill in Kitzbuehel on January 21 this year. He is also the oldest world championship medalist, having won the super-G silver in 2019.

Talking about not claiming a gold medal in major competitions, Clarey said: "I've thought about it, but now, it's not an absolute goal. It doesn't become an obsession. I'm very proud of my career."

Simon Ammann (Switzerland, 40, ski jumping)

Ammann, the only ski jumper to have won a golden double in normal hill and large hill individual events at two Olympics, Salt Lake City 2002 and Vancouver 2010, is back for a record seventh consecutive Games.

Ammann suffered a head concussion during the Four Hills Tournament in 2015, followed by rumors about his career end, but he announced his comeback in May 2015.

He finished 25th in the normal hill individual at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and is scheduled to compete in the large hill event.

Lindsey Jacobellis (United States, 36, snowboard)

A six-time world champion and 10-time X Games champion, Jacobellis ended her 16-year wait for a gold in the women's snowboard cross in her fifth Olympic appearance.

At 36 years, 174 days, she becomes the oldest snowboard gold medallist, surpassing Benjamin Karl of Austria, who was 36 years, 115 days when he won the Beijing 2022 parallel giant slalom a day earlier.

At Torino 2006, while Jacobellis was in the lead for almost the entire final, on the second to last jump she pulled off a backside air, lost her balance and fell, letting the gold slip to Swiss Tanja Frieden.

On whether she would have won this gold medal if she had won gold at Turin 2006, Jacobellis said, "Probably not, and I probably would have quit the sport at that point because I wasn't really having fun with it."

"There was so much pressure on me to be the golden girl. I'd won so many races going into it and it's a lot for a young athlete to have on their plate."

Arianna Fontana (Italy, 31, short track speed skating)

Fontana became the most decorated short track speed skater after claiming her ninth Olympic medal with a 2,000m mixed team relay silver at Beijing 2022, before extending her own record with a gold in the women's 500m.

Fontana won her first Olympic medal 16 years ago, in the women's 3,000m relay at Turin 2006.

"I've been around for a long time," said Fontana about breaking a tie with Apolo Ohno and Victor An (Ahn Hyun-soo) on Olympic medal tally. "They were great when they skated, and that will never change. Just a different era."

Xu Mengtao (China, 31, freestyle skiing)

Once enduring a serious knee injury, the all-time leading FIS World Cup winner is making her fourth Olympic appearance.

Xu registered her career's 26th World Cup victory in Ruka, Finland last December, moving clear of Australian legend Jacqui Copper in the all-time ranking for most World Cup victories.

Xu is also a part of team China in the mixed team aerials, an added event at the Beijing Winter Olympics. China has won both of two mixed team aerials matches at the World Cup so far this season.

The world champion in 2013 and silver medalist at the Sochi 2014 Games kickstarted her Beijing 2022 campaign in the mixed team event on Thursday, winning a silver with Jia Zongyang and Qi Guangpu. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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