As Helen Clitheroe wins European gold at age 37, we look
at evergreen sports stars who have kept on performing at the top level when they
should have had their feet up with a mug of Horlicks.
British distance runner Clitheroe defied her 37 years
at the weekend as she took gold in the women's 3,000m at the European Indoor
Championships in Paris.
The victory marked the end of years of frustration for
Clitheroe, who had always missed out on the medals in major championships.
But she persevered - despite losing her
lottery funding - and declared the medal "an absolute dream come true for me. I've
been trying so long to get on a podium and to get on and win a gold medal at 37
is just unbelievable".
To help celebrate her achievement, we
run down the greatest sportspeople in history who have refused to put their
feet up and retire.
- - - - -
Football: Stanley Matthews
People often complain that the word
legend is bandied around far too easily in sport, but nobody would ever suggest
that Matthews was anything but. He made his league debut for Stoke City at the
age of 17 in 1932, and quickly became a hero for his skill and athleticism; his final English league appearance came some 33 years later, at the age of 50,
on 6 February 1965 - and promptly claimed that he had retired too early.
Throughout it all he not only played
brilliant football but did so with unrivalled grace and good spirit, never once
being booked or sent off in his career. As Pele himself said, Matthews was
"the man who taught us the way football should be played".
Formula One: Juan Manuel Fangio
Formula One aficionados today talk in
hushed tones about Rubens Barrichello's extraordinary longevity, and there's no
doubt that the 307 races the Brazilian has under his belt are impressive. But
the career of F1's first superstar, Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio, was even more
Fangio won five drivers' titles, the
last of which came in 1957 at the age of 46 (eight years older than Barrichello
is today) - and he would surely have had more if not for the
inconvenient fact that the racing series did not start until he was nearly 40.
Perhaps the most amazing record of all is that he lived to be 84 despite
driving in an era when it was not uncommon to see several drivers perish in a race.
Golf: Harry Vardon
England's undisputed greatest ever golfer won
six Open Championships - a record which remains unequalled to this day - as
well as the US Open. He would surely have won more of both if the First World
War hadn't interrupted his career (in the four Opens before the War he had two
wins, a second and a third), and came within a whisker of winning the US Open in
1920 at the age of 50, losing out to local caddie Francis Ouimet in the
tournament immortalised in the book (and film) 'The Greatest Game Ever
Since then, golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, Kenny
Perry and Fred Couples have shown that you can still compete with a half
century of years on the clock. None, however, was competing in an era when life expectancy was just 50.
American football: George Blanda
The NFL all-rounder set an astonishing
record by playing professional American football in four different decades.
Starting with the Chicago Bears in 1949, he played 26 consecutive seasons
before retiring at the age of 48 after taking the Oakland Raiders to the AFC
Championship Game in January 1976.
But his career was not just remarkable
for its longevity: as a quarterback, he was four times an All Star player who
still shares the record for making seven touchdown passes in a single game.
Boxing: George Foreman
For many people, being involved in arguably
the most famous boxing match of all time would be enough. For others, setting
up a multi-billion pound business selling kitchen equipment would also be
considered a satisfying career.
But George Foreman didn't stop there: the
American boxer first became a world champion in 1973 at the age of 24 when he
beat the undisputed (and hitherto undefeated) Joe Frazier. Foreman lost the title
to Muhammad Ali in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' the year after, but eventually
won it back in 1994 against Michael Moorer.
Rumours emerged of another comeback
in 2004, when he planned to show that being 55 was not a "death
sentence" - but the fight never happened, and Foreman continued a retirement of potentially spending a cool £170 million fortune, amassed from sales of his grills.
Baseball: Jamie Moyer
At the age of 48, the former Seattle
Mariners and Boston Red Sox pitcher is the oldest active player in Major League Baseball. Moyer started out with the Chicago Cubs in 1986, and though he was
released by the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of last season he has left the
door open to carry on, claiming that 2010 was not necessarily his swansong.
"It potentially could be. But so
could have last year. So could have two years ago, so could have five years ago,"
he said. He holds the all-time records for the most wins, most losses and most
strikeouts of any MLB player.
Football: Ryan Giggs
He may be 37 years old, but the Manchester
United legend is still going strong. The Welshman has clocked up over 20 years
since his United debut and surpassed Bobby Charlton's league appearances record
for the club at the weekend.
Age has not withered him, however: Giggs
is still such a key player for the Red Devils that he was offered a new
contract that will keep him at Old Trafford until the end of the 2011-12 season.
8. Cricket: Brian Close
WG Grace captained England when he was in his 50s and retired from
first class cricket a week before his 66th birthday, but given the comparison
between eras Brian Close's recall to the national side at the age of 45 is
perhaps even more extraordinary. Close was just 18 when he first played Test
cricket for England (against New Zealand, in 1949), and enjoyed a superb career
as an all-rounder, scoring 35,000 runs, taking 1,168 wickets and leading Yorkshire
to seven County Championships.
He was recalled to the Test side in 1975 to face
the West Indies, and made a creditable 20 in tough conditions despite being pounded
by the fast bowling of Michael Holding and co.
9. Horse racing: Dick Saunders
The ageing jockey went down in the record books when he won the Grand
National at the age of 48, some 31 years after making his racing debut. His
work as a farmer and occasional
racecourse official took him away from riding for most of his 20s and early
30s, but he began riding seriously again when he was 32 and crowned his career
by riding Grittar to success at Aintree in 1982.
His success was not just
remarkable for his age: he is one of the very few amateurs to have won the race
in the modern era (only four have done so since the Second World War) while Grittar
is one of the few favourites ever to take the prize.
10. Bowls: Willie Wood
The Scot took part in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year at the
extraordinary age of 72. Wood had been playing the game for more than 60 years,
and had first taken part in the Commonwealth Games some 34 years previously. The
Haddington bowler - fondly known as 'Wee Willie Winkie' - was a gold medallist
in the singles in Brisbane in 1982, but failed to make an impact in India as
his Triples team came seventh.