Are Your Olympic Dreams Over at 50?

50-year-olds (and up) win medals all the time...sort of.

"Age is just a number", as Joan Collins famously said. For some careers, that's certainly true. The best years can come later in life, along with the greatest earnings potential.

Image of Ursula von der Leyen, Albert Einstein, and Morgan Freeman

But we know that's not true for athletes. Despite that, is it possible to be an Olympic medalist at 50+?

More than 41,000 Olympic medals were awarded from 1896 to 2021 (ignoring about 9,000 winners from mostly long ago whose ages are unknown).

Here they are organized horizontally by the age of the recipient. As you can see, the vast majority (86%) of winners are 18-35 years old.

Full-screen data visual depicts histogram showing the many thousands of medal-winners between 18 and 35, and the very few outside that range.
Clearly, sport is for the young. It’s very rare to compete, never mind win an olympic medal, beyond the age of 40. Just 3% of Olympians and medal-winners were that old when they competed.
Data visual updates to highlight 40+ medallists.
It's even more rare over 50 (just 6 per 1,000 medal-winners).
Data visual updates to hilight 50+ medallists
Since the Art Competition (yes, the Art Competition!) was eliminated after the 1948 Olympics, just 5 per 1,000 medal-winners have been 50+.
A bit of gray hair is actually a good thing, generally. When you compare the average age of competitors (since 1980) to the average age of the people who actually win medals in those sports, the winners tend to be a bit older in a bit more than half of the sports.
New data visual shows the variance between the average age of competitors and that of medallists in 49 Olympic sports.
Although, for context, just 5 of these 49 sports have had a single 50+ medalist since 1980.
Data visual updates to highlight five sports.

As Jules Renard said, “It is not how old you are, but how you are old.”

Photo of two older adults playfully riding bicycles

If you’re over 50, your shot at becoming an Olympian (or “Oldlympian”) is not over. But how might you get there?

First, forget about winter sports. Of the 244 total "Oldlympian" medals since 1896 (those going to 50+ competitors)...
Data visual shows 244 dots clustered in center of screen - one for each medal.
...only five came during the Winter Olympics, four of which were in 1924 (leaving just one in recent history—1998, to be exact). That one person competed at Curling, a sport that accounts for 9 of the 10 oldest Winter medalists since 1980, but most of them were in their low- to mid-40s when they medalled.
Data visual updates to split the dots showing 239 on the left and 5 on the right - segmented by Olympics season.
If you restrict yourself to Summer sports, you might consider Shooting, which has provided a nice share of "Oldlympian" medals since 1896, but just six total since 1980.
Data visual updates to show just summer sports, highlighting shooting events.
But your best option, by far, is in the Equestrian events. These events account for 26% of all "Oldlympian" medals since 1896, and an impressive 78% since 1980 (and more than 8% of ALL equestrian medals in that time).
Visual updates to show just medals since 1980, highlighting Equestrian medals.
Equestrianism is the most geriatric of Olympic events with a much higher average age among competitors than all other sports.
Data visual displays average ages of 49 Olympic sports, with Equestrianism much higher than the rest.
And these athletes (and medal-winners) have been getting mostly older since 1980.
Visual updates to include mini line chart show the average age of Equestrian athletes over time.
Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that it's all about team, rather than individual, events. 35 of the 46 medals awarded to 50+ athletes since 1980 were for team events.
Data visual showing medalists broken out by sport and over time.
So you might ask, do these older athletes rely completely on their teams for success? Mostly yes.

But three of them won an individual event and a team event in the same Olympics in this timeframe (one athlete also won another team event during the following games), while one other person won the individual event one Olympics, and with the team the next.

This doesn't mean the others aren't contributing to their teams' successes, but clearly these few are demonstrably winning on their own, as well.

Aside from Equestrianism, there has been limited success for "Oldlympian" competitors in recent history, although there have been a couple of multiple medal-winners in Shooting, including in 2016 and 2021.
The single best year for 50+ medal-winners was actually 2021, and the second and third best were 2016 and 2012. So things are looking up!

It's worth pointing out that above all, it seems, winning an Olympic medal at 50+ is about leadership.

It's a well-known fact that in many sports, teams will try to recruit a grizzled veteran or two as part of their efforts to win championships because of their ability to lead from the locker room. In this data set, both older rowing medallists were coxswains - the people sitting at the front of the boat coaxing the rowers to perform at their best. And while I'm sure equestrianism requires athletic prowess from the rider, it must also largely be about the rider's ability to lead the horse to perform at its best. Leadership, wisdom, skills that increase with age, are clearly an advantage that leads to success in some sports and situations more than others.

In the end, it's an uphill climb to compete and win at the Olympics if you're in your forties, never mind your fifties. But it's not impossible. As you'll see below, most (but not all) of these people have had long careers competing in the Olympics before their later year successes. But there are exceptions worth investigating—6 of them never made an Olympics before 50! And several more competed only a couple or handful of times before that age.

The best advice to become an "Oldlympian", given recent history, is to learn to ride a horse and compete in the team Equestrian events. But you'd better start training now—the next Summer Olympics qualifying events will be in about two years!

Meet the Athletes

Here you can see each 50+ medal-winner since 1980, in order by their most recent medal. For each, you can see how many times they competed or medaled before and after they turned 50.

Click a photo to read more about that athlete on

Grid of photos of over-50 Olympians showing how many times they competed and medalled before and after turning 50.
competed (no medal) medalled


All data for 1896-2016 comes from a dataset on Kaggle. Ages for about 3% of competitors (mostly pre-1980) were missing so they were removed from the dataset before analysis. Data for 2018 & 2021 comes from from Sports that have been part of the Olympics fewer than five times were eliminated from the average age by sport analyses.