Athletic Glory At An Advanced Age
SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:
The Olympic motto - Faster, Higher, Stronger - has always applied to an ideal: a young, supremely fit athlete, performing wondrous tasks. The motto means something different for athletes over 50. Thousands of them are in Cleveland for the National Senior Games. These games may be lacking in youth and buff physiques, but NPR's Tom Goldman reports the event still has great significance for those are competing and watching.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The Senior Games' celebration of athletes Friday night at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena had some of the feel of an Olympic ceremony. There was a parade of flags:
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Arizona.
GOLDMAN: There was an athlete oath.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I pledge to abide by the rules of these games.
GOLDMAN: There was a decorated Olympian emceeing the event. And you got to hand it to Scott Hamilton. The former gold medal-winning figure skater sure knows how to get a crowd of senior athletes riled up.
SCOTT HAMILTON: How can someone swim in Depends?
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)
GOLDMAN: It was all shtick, of course. Hamilton worked his way around to the fact that at 54, he could be competing and, with a preacher's fire, said everyone should be.
HAMILTON: Get out there. Get busy. Be the best and healthiest you can be and don't let anyone talk you out of it.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Set.
(SOUNDBITE OF STARTING GUN)
GOLDMAN: Yesterday, in the rain, a full day of track and field competition at Baldwin Wallace University outside of Cleveland.
CHRIS MONACO: Come on, Nino.
KEVIN MONACO: Good job, dad.
GOLDMAN: With sons Chris and Kevin cheering him on, 62-year-old Nino Monaco ran his 200 meters heat. He's in the 400, 800 and 1,500 as well. When he was young, Nino Monaco was a soccer player in his native Italy. He transitioned to competitive running at 30. And, he says, more people should do the same. Monaco thinks too many abandon athletics after youth and college sports have run their course.
NINO MONACO: We should have more competition for people in their late 20s and 30s, you know, track meets and stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oscar, good job, man. You're awesome.
GOLDMAN: Oscar Peyton indeed is awesome. He had just run his 200 heat eight seconds faster than Monaco, and was clearly the class of the field - as he's been for a decade. The Usain Bolt of the older set, 60-year-old Peyton has won both the 100 and 200 meters at the last five Senior Games. Most Senior Games stories are heavy on inspiration, but Peyton's also is bittersweet.
OSCAR PEYTON: My speed really developed between the ages of 18 and 20. I probably could've been on the U.S. Olympic team and maybe even set a world record even back then 'cause I was very fast.
GOLDMAN: Peyton says he beat some speedy high school and college track stars in impromptu races back then. But, he says, he went unnoticed by track coaches. He turned to basketball, and played until the toll on his knees forced him to give it up in his early 40s. One day, when he was nearly 50, knowing he needed to get active again because of high cholesterol, Peyton was watching the Olympic-style World Games on TV.
PEYTON: And I was just wondering if they had anything for seniors.
GOLDMAN: They did. And now Oscar Peyton gets noticed - a lot. Over the next couple of days, he'll try to add to his already bulging gold medal collection. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Cleveland.
STAMBERG: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.