Watching athletes compete in the Summer Olympics can either be a tremendous boost of moral, inspiring you to push your limits, or a depressing sight. After reading about the 100-year-old-plus athletes studied by French researchers, however, I really don’t know how to feel about myself.
Romuald Lepers at the University of Burgundy, Dijon, and colleagues wanted to see how much age affects elite sports performance, and what better way than to go the very extreme? The identified all the best centenarian sportsmen in athletics, swimming, and cycling, then measured how their ability declined by using the current world record holders as benchmarks.
For instance, the 100-metre sprint record is held by Usain Bolt who clocked in at only 9.58 seconds. For the same event, but in the 100 to 104 age group, Donald Pellmann scored 26.99 seconds, marking a 64.5 percent decrease in performance.
Citing previous studies, Lepers says an athlete can expect to compete with the absolute world best until age 35 to 40. It’s downhill from there as performance decreases 10 to 15 percent per decade — that’s if you still stay in shape, of course.
However, one astonishing athlete seems to defy these odds. The 104-year-old Robert Marchand holds the world record for his age group for 1-hour track cycling, having completed the race in 26.93 kilometres or 50.6 per cent slower than Bradley Wiggins’s 54.53 km record. Scientists say Marchand’s performance has declined by only eight percent per decade.
Marchand may be an oddity, a human grafted with exceptionally good genes, if his training routine is not that different from his fellow centenarian athletes. Then again, performance in cycling should show lower age-related decline than running or swimming, the authors of the paper published in the journal Age and Aging add.
In time, we should learn more about this as the number of centenarian athletes is sure to increase with the rest of the 100-plus population. Previously, ZME Science reported the population of adults 85 and older is projected to increase 351 percent by 2050, while those older than 100 will increase 10-fold between 2010 and 2050.