We tend to think of the Olympics as a festival of youth. But there's an impressive number of 40-and-over athletes competing for spots on the U.S. team that will travel to London -- proving that age isn't the most important factor in athletic prowess.
The swimming stalwarts. You're probably familiar with swimmer Dara Torres (left), the 45-year-old champion vying to compete in her sixth Olympics. She won three silver medals at the 2008 games in Beijing, where she earned the distinction of being the oldest female swimmer in the history of the games. In the process, Torres set an American record in the 50-meter freestyle with her time of 24.07 seconds. She finished second in that event in the 2011 U.S. Winter National Championships. Torres shared some of her workout tips in this SecondAct article.
Meanwhile, distance swimmer Janet Evans, 40, a four-time gold medalist who retired from the sport in 1996, is making a comeback. Evans has qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in both the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle events. Here's a SecondAct piece about that feat and another article about how Evans has modified her training regimen in middle age.
The archer extraordinaire. While America goes gaga over teenage archer Katniss in the hit film The Hunger Games, real-life five-time Olympian Richard "Butch" Johnson, 57, is hoping to qualify for the London games. In Beijing, Johnson narrowly lost in the second round to Korea's Dong-Hyun Im by the score of 115-106. Johnson won a gold medal in the team event in Atlanta in 1996, and a bronze in Sydney in 2000.
The shooter. U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Eric Uptagrafft (right), 46, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit who deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, is hoping to win medals in the 50-meter rifle prone and 50-meter rifle three position events in London. He's a 10-time World Cup medalist and has been shooting since age 11.
The equestrians. There are numerous 40-and-over hopefuls for the U.S. equestrian team, which will be selected in July. Karen O'Connor, 54, is attempting to make her fifth Olympic squad, while Beezie Madden, 48, who won a gold in Beijing in 2008, and four-time Olympian Steffen Peters also are in the mix.
Walking in London? Joanne Dow, 48, a three-time outdoor and five-time indoor racewalking champion, will compete in the 20-kilometer racewalk at the Olympic track and field trials on July 1.
Waiting until 2016. I would be remiss if I didn't salute a former Olympian who missed making the team in 2012 but still aims for another comeback. Back in 2000, Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner startled the grappling world, first by winning an upset decision over a Russian competitor and then by turning an awkward-looking cartwheel afterward (he apparently wasn't able to do the customary celebratory back-flip). Since then, Gardner has had his ups and downs, healthwise -- a snowmobile mishap cost him a toe, he accidentally shot himself with an arrow in the abdomen while hunting, and at one point, he tipped the scales at 470 pounds and had a blood pressure reading of 180/120, which caused his sister Gerry, a cardiologist, to give him a tongue-lashing. Gardner went on a weight-loss regimen and competed as a contestant on NBC's The Biggest Loser.
Last week, the 40-year-old Gardner showed up at the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials at a much slimmer and more muscular 269 pounds, but was unable to lose the last 4.5 pounds that he needed to cut to compete in his weight class. He says that he will continue training in hopes of making the team in 2016 at age 45. As Gardner told Sports Illustrated, "I feel like I'm 20 again."