The Rundown

Top 10 sporting ‘ancient wonders’

The Rundown

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The sporting world is normally a young person's arena - but there have been two reminders of the benefits of experience this week. Jeannie Longo of France won her 58th national cycling title of her career at the age of 52, while Jack McKeon has taken the coaching job of the Florida Marlins baseball team at the age of 80.

Inspiring, certainly - but rare as they are, there are others who have stood the test of time in their sports. 

The Rundown takes a look at some of the other venerable stars of their sports.

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1.
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".

2. Cricket: Wilfred Rhodes

Wilfred Rhodes' first Test match for England was in 1899 - and his last (his 58th) nearly 31 years later. He represented his country over the course of five different decades, and was 52 when he finally retired from the game. Rhodes had plenty of time to refine his cricketing skills, and made a gradual transition over his career from bowler to all-rounder to specialist batsman, batting at every position between 1 and 11 for his country along the way.

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3.
Golf: Tom Watson

Golfers tend to peak later than other sportsmen, but Tom Watson came within a whisker of pulling off the extraordinary by winning the Open just months away from his 60th birthday in 2009. Watson, who had won the first of eight Majors in 1975 and his last in 1983, had won five Opens during a stellar career, and going into the 72nd hole of Turnberry he needed a par to claim a sixth. He rolled his put agonisingly wide before falling away in a play-off to Stewart Cink.

4.
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.

5.
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.

6.
Baseball: Jack McKeon

Jack McKeon broke the record for being the oldest baseball manager to win the World Series when he led the Florida Marlins to their 2003 triumph at the age of 72. McKeon's career looked to have ended in 2005, but in a surprise move he was brought back to lead the side in his ninth decade. "I don't need this job," McKeon said with great understatement, "but I love it."

7. Cycling: Jeanni Longo

Cycling is supposedly a young person's sport but Longo continues to astound on a national level, winning an unprecedented 58th national title this year. The French road race champion of 1979 has now won titles in five different decades, and races competitors young enough to be her daughters.

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8. Tennis: Martina Navratilova

Few people go into retirement still winning Grand Slams - fewer still come back from retirement, win some more, and retire again at the top. But Martina Navratilova, still good enough at the age of 47 to win her first round singles match at Wimbledon in straight sets, was an accomplished doubles player and together with Bob Bryan won the US Open mixed doubles in 2006 just a few weeks away from her 50th birthday. It was her 59th Grand Slam title in the course of 32 years.

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.

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