KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The spirit of the ‘70s is alive and skiing, shooting, sliding, skating and jumping at the Sochi Olympics.
Albert Demtschenko, 42, and Armin Zoeggeler, 40, won luge medals Sunday, one day after Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 40, tied the record for most career Winter Olympic medals with a gold of his own. It marked the first time two 40-somethings won individual event medals on the same day at a Winter Olympics.
Also Sunday, speed skater Claudia Pechtein and ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, both 41, finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in their first events of these Games. Suddenly, Bode Miller skiing at 36 and Yevgeny Plushenko skating at 31 doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary.
The Olympics call upon the youth of the world to assemble every four years. The Sochi Games give new meaning to that.
Start with Zoeggeler, who won luge bronze to become the first athlete to win medals at six Winter Olympics.
The Italian is nicknamed the “Cannibal” for his ability to eat up the competition the last two decades. His medal collection now includes two gold, one silver and three bronze. He could add to it by entering the new luge team relay event Thursday.
Zoeggeler showed the vigor of a man half his age upon crossing the finish at Sanki Sliding Center on a chilly Sunday night. He slid into first place with two lugers to go and pumped his fists and raised his arms, knowing he had clinched a medal.
Then Demtschenko came storming down the icy chute, bettering Zoeggeler in not only time but also post-race exuberance. Fireworks accompanied his final run, lighting up the Caucasus Mountains.
Demtschenko would win silver, his second Olympic medal. He also took silver in 2006, that time behind Zoeggeler. He’s now the oldest individual event Winter Olympic medalist ever (unless you count figure skating from the 1908 and 1920 Summer Games).
Zoeggeler and Demtschenko both watched the final slider, whippersnapper German Felix Loch, cruise to his second straight Olympic gold. Loch is 24, so look for him again in 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030. The spry silver and bronze medalists had enough vigor after four runs over two days to lift Loch onto their shoulders at the post-race flower ceremony.
“The old guys can have a little back problem,” Zoeggeler joked.
Surely, that must have inspired a Sanki crowd that included International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, 60, soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer, 68, and retired five-time Olympic medalist Georg Hackl, who at 47 should really give a thought to compete again.
Their feats impressed their competition, that’s for sure.
“Well if I was getting medals, I’d definitely stick around as long as possible as they are,” said American Aidan Kelly, who was born seven months after Zoeggeler’s first Olympic medal and finished 24th in his Olympic debut.
The first ski jumping final of the Sochi Olympics took place simultaneous to luge. Japan’s Kasai, 41, came in as a medal contender having his best World Cup season since the turn of the millennium. So maybe eighth wasn’t what he wanted, but it matched his best individual Olympic event finish since 1998.
Kasai and Demtschenko are the first athletes to compete in seven Winter Olympics.
Earlier Sunday, German Claudia Pechstein came up just short in her bid for a 10th medal, finishing fourth in speed skating’s 3000m.
Pechstein is in her sixth Olympics. She won her first medal when Olympic speed skating was on an outdoor oval in 1992 in Albertville, France, and missed the 2010 Games due to a doping ban.
There are always 40-somethings in team sports, such as curling. The four oldest members of the U.S. athlete delegation are women’s curlers in their 40s, including skip Erika Brown, who competed at the 1988 Olympics at age 15. Curling was a demonstration sport then.
Two of the coolest old man in Sochi stories come from the men’s hockey tournament. Czech forward Petr Nedved is 42 and last competed at the Olympics in 1994. For Canada. He’s teammates with Jaromir Jagr, 41.
Latvian defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh, also 41, is old enough to have competed internationally for the Unified Team and the Soviet Union.
Then there are the more odd tales, such as Jamaican bobsledder Winston Watts, 46, Mexican Alpine skier Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe, 55, and the Dominica husband and wife cross-country skiers ages 47 and 48.
“I guess maybe we’re lucky, or good, or what,” Nedved said of being a 40-something athlete last week. “But we’re here.”