What is the right age to compete at the Olympics?
Well obviously it depends on the sport – despite his keenness to get anyone and everyone into sport ahead of the Games, even Lord Coe hasn’t managed to persuade too many from the 50+ demographic to take up pole vaulting. Even gravity would be against him in this endeavour. Neither has there been an increase in the number of teenagers bouncing down to the local archery range for practice of the quiet, repetitive variety that requires optimal concentration. I’m not saying they can’t do that, most of them chose not to.
The textbook path for a talented athlete to follow would look like this
Chapter 1 – Start young, be active, try different sports out, play some games
Chapter 2 – Decide what you like, practise, get good
Chapter 3 – Compete in junior competitions, do well, progress to senior level
Chapter 4 – Break records, win titles, make money, retire
Not all athletes take this route though which is what makes sport so appealing. Talk to players in the same team and they won’t have come off a conveyor belt to reach where they are let alone athletes from different sports.
Take the GB Eventing team selected for the London Olympics – the youngest member is Zara Phillips (or should that be Tindall?) who is the Queen’s grand-daughter and 14th in line to the throne. This athlete would have all the pony power she wanted to hack around her choice of landed estates. She, naturally, has good pedigree as both her parents represented their country at past Olympics.
The oldest member of the equestrian team is Mary King, (surely soon to be Dame Mary). The 51 year old grew-up in Devon but none of her family rode. She borrowed a pony that belonged to the local vicar who her father worked for. She did all sorts of jobs to feed her horsey habit including a delivery girl for the butcher’s and a gardener. Her fierce determination got her a position of head girl at notable stables and since then she has competed and won medals at British, European and World Championships as well as 4 Olympic Games.
These stories are so unorthodox they have become orthodox. There is no right and wrong direction to the top (unless you are Ben Johnson or Marion Jones, or Eric Moussambani). As the Dwain Chambers saga continues, a tale that is destined to be more than a trilogy of volumes,
The story of another sprinter comes to light, and not just as a subplot. Adam Gemili finished second to Chambers at the GB trials in Birmingham last weekend but had already achieved the Olympic A-standard ahead of this meet.
The teenager only began to take athletics seriously in January having been on the books at Chelsea FC and Dagenham and Redbridge. He forgot about football (heaven forbid) and ran 10.08 seconds inGermanyto make the Olympics a possibility. This is the second fastest time by a European in 2012 so his name was added to the list being rewarded with a summer jolly toStratford. As he is still 18 he can compete at the World Junior Games in July before trying his luck against men the following month. Why wouldn’t he? He will have a whole month more experience by then and fearlessness is the mark of the young and the brave. Although the world and its mother, and presumably Gemili’s mother too, think that as long as Usain Bolt can wait for the B of the bang, he will win the 100m, there is no reason why he shouldn’t turn up. It will make a man out of him, there’s no time like the present.