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Golden oldie Olympic athletes show how to win

AFP logoAFP 16/08/2016 Sebastian Smith

At 54, Argentinian Olympic sailor Santiago Lange is tired and in pain. And on the cusp of winning gold.

The Olympics may resemble a celebration of youthful perfection, but sprinkled across a surprising variety of sports are veterans like Lange.

There are over-40s in gymnastics and rowing, while equestrian events feature several over-50 year olds, topped by the oldest competitor in the Olympics, New Zealand rider Julie Brougham, 62.

Lange has already been in five Olympics and won two bronze medals. Now his Nacra 17 catamaran, crewed by 29-year-old Cecilia Carranza Saroli, heads the fleet ahead of Tuesday's medal race, meaning he has an excellent chance of boosting that haul.

Sailing has not the same physical demands as running or gymnastics, but the fast Nacra catamaran requires agility, wits and the toughness to spend days bouncing around in the waves and weather.

"I'm hurting. It takes it out of me," Lange told AFP at the Olympic sailing base Marina da Gloria, admitting to exhaustion after his latest victorious race. "It's painful just to pull the boat out of the water."

It isn't just creaky joints he has to worry about.

Lange underwent lung cancer surgery last year and spent months out of the sport. Adding to the weight of these Games, Lange has two sons on the Argentine team, sailing a 49er.

"This has been a very emotional Olympics," he said. "I've been to many other Olympics but I never got to cry so much in the opening ceremony or after the opening ceremony the next morning alone."

Britain's Victoria Thornley (L) and Katherine Grainger celebrate on the podium of Women's Double Sculls final rowing competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games: Britain's Victoria Thornley and Katherine Grainger celebrate on the podium of Women's Double Sculls. © AFP Photo Britain's Victoria Thornley and Katherine Grainger celebrate on the podium of Women's Double Sculls. Old dogs, new tricks

Brazil's Robert Scheidt, 43, is looking to add to his haul of five medals to become the most decorated Olympic sailor ever. And 40-year-old rower Katherine Grainger became Britain's most decorated female Olympian in Rio.

Among other golden oldies are Kristin Armstrong, the US winner of the cycling time trial, who is 43, and Argentina and NBA basketball's Manu Ginobili, 39.

Even athletics features over-40-year-olds.

Bernard Lagat is running for the United States in 5,000m at the age of 41. His first Olympics was back in Sydney in 2000.

"I train with young guys and I don't believe I'm old," Lagat told AFP after the Olympic trials in Oregon last month.

"If you believe you're old, you're going to run like an old man. These young guys push me every single day."

The most age defying athlete must be Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who at 41 is taking part in her seventh Olympics as a gymnast -- a sport dominated by teenagers.

But for senior friendliness, maybe nothing beats equestrian events, where the horse takes much of the physical load and experience counts.

New Zealand's Mark Todd on Leonidas II competes during the Eventing's Individual Jumping during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games: New Zealand's Mark Todd on Leonidas II. © AFP Photo New Zealand's Mark Todd on Leonidas II. Brougham's New Zealander team mate Mark Todd, 60, made his Olympic debut 32 years ago in Los Angeles, where he won the first of his two golds.

"I'm actually riding against children of my contemporaries," the legendary rider said cheerfully.

Well, they're not all so green.

The Kiwis' rivals include Great Britain's John Whitaker, 60, and his brother Michael just four years younger.

Argentina's Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli compete in the Nacra 17 Mixed sailing class on Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janerio: Argentina's Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli compete in the Nacra 17 Mixed sailing class on Guanabara Bay. © AFP Photo Argentina's Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli compete in the Nacra 17 Mixed sailing class on Guanabara Bay. Passion

Asked for his secret, Lange notes that sailing is a more forgiving sport than some others. "I have a young lady who pulls all the ropes for me," he joked.

Carranza said that Lange is no slouch on the physical side of things.

"What I admire from him is that we are always the first ones to go in the water in the training. We are always the ones who sail the most in the day," she said.

Lange says he fights to stay fit because strength may be less important than experience in sailing, but it's still vital.

"It's a very mental sport and your being healthy and powerful helps a lot," he said.

More than anything, though, staying at the top of the game comes from hunger to achieve more.

"What I see with Santi is that when you have a passion and you love doing something, you can do it all day long," Carranza said.

For him, even going on to the Tokyo Games in four years remains "a dream."

"If my knees survive and my back, I will do it," he said.

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