Michael Gostigian, a pentathlete who has not competed on an Olympic level since the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, competed at a World Cup event during March in Charlotte, N.C. -- the next step of his comeback trail toward a fourth Olympic appearance. Gostigian is 49-years-old now. He is still recovering from a fractured wrist and an injured calf.
“I don’t want to say I’m a Volkswagen going into a Formula-1 race,” he said with a laugh. “In some ways I feel like that.”
Gostigian is just one of several 40-somethings — and 50-somethings — who have a sharp eye on the London 2012 Olympic Games. Their step may be a little slower, their splash in the pool not as spectacular, but don’t count out the determination and the experience that these big-name Olympians will bring. To be sure, the road to London is steeper for some than others, but among those attempting the climb: four-time gold medalist swimmer Janet Evans, five-time Olympic archer Butch Johnson, four-time Olympic table tennis player Gao Jun, and Olympic champion wrestler Rulon Gardner.
For Gostigian and his wife, Sharon Monplaisir, herself a three-time Olympian in fencing, it’s all about the family. This week, they drove more than 600 miles from New York City, where Gostigian is a private fitness trainer, to Charlotte for a modern pentathlon World Cup. Michael and Sharon have spun plenty of Olympic stories in the direction of 9-year-old twins Gunnar and Siena, but until now neither had seen dad compete.
“I really want my kids to see me compete,” said Gostigian, whose best Olympic finish was fourth in the men's team event in Barcelona in 1992 when he was 29. “That’s the biggest thing. That’s the reason I’m doing this. I just want to expose them to the life my wife and I had as Olympians.”
Oh, and there is something about Harry Potter.
“They knew the London Olympics were coming up,” Gostigian said of the twins. “And they’re big Harry Potter fans. So they wanted to go back to where Harry Potter is from.”
Gostigian, who hopes that his fencing skills will lead to big scores, had to qualify for the Charlotte World Cup through two USA Modern Pentathlon qualifying sessions in January and February.
But even Gostigian doesn't have much on Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu. Hoketsu is oldest athlete likely to compete in London is Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu; at age 70, he qualified for Japan’s Olympic Team as an equestrian athlete in individual dressage. At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Hoketsu finished ninth in the dressage team competition and 35th in the individual competition.
Here is a look at some of the other over-40 and over-50 athletes attempting to make the U.S. Olympic Team:
At 44, Dara Torres is attempting to make her sixth Olympic team after winning 12 medals at her previous five Olympic Games. Among those podium finishes: A silver medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where her time of 24.07 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle set an American record. She earned three silver medals in Beijing, competing as the oldest female swimmer in Olympic history. The 50 freestyle is where Torres is focusing her efforts, and she finished second in that event at the 2011 U.S. Winter National Championships. She turns 45 years old in April.
A four-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time Olympian, the 40-year-old Evans has qualified not once, but twice, for the Olympic Trials. Competing at the Austin (Texas) Grand Prix in January, Evans qualified for the Trials in the 800-meter freestyle (8:49.05) and 400 freestyle (4:17.27). She has not competed in the Olympic Games since the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, but still holds the U.S. record in the 800 (8:16.22 set back in 1989) and won the race in Austin. “I’m usually that spectator in the stands these days and now I’m down here with all the young kids, all the kids I’ve been watching swim all these years,” Evans told espn.com.
A gold medalist at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games after he defeated Aleksandr Karelin of Russia in one of the biggest wrestling upsets of all time, Gardner, 40, is attempting to win a spot on his third Olympic team. Because he is a past member of a U.S. Olympic Team, he is guaranteed a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials in April. Gardner, who once weighed more than 470 pounds and appeared on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” show, is aiming to compete at 264.5 pounds —the heaviest weight division in Greco-Roman wrestling. “I act young, I look old and I’m crazy to be wrestling. How many 40-year-old men are rolling around with other grown men?” Gardner told the New York Times.
RICHARD “BUTCH” JOHNSON
The five-time Olympian turns 57 years old this year and he is in contention to make his sixth U.S. Olympic Team. Johnson is in third place after one stage of USA Archery’s Olympic Team Trials with two events still to go. He is also in first place in the National Indoor Championships unofficial standings. A bad case of food poisoning last year kept him out of the world championships and also off the World Cup team. His many international medals include a team gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
At age 46, Uptagrafft has qualified for his second Olympic team in the prone division of shooting. His specialty is the men’s 50-meter prone. Uptagrafft, a Sergeant First Class and member of the U.S. Army Markmanship Unit, has been shooting since he was 11 and is a 10-time World Cup medalist. He was first an Olympian at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. His military service has included serving in Kuwait in Afghanistan as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Karen O’Connor is attempting to make her fifth Olympic team at age 54 on the U.S. eventing team. O’Connor is a longtime equestrian and her Olympic achievements include a silver medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and bronze at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Another eventing rider trying to make his fifth Olympics is Phillip Dutton, 48, a native of Australia who moved to the United States in 1991 and competed for Team USA at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Other over-40 equestrians include Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut and Richard Spooner in jumping, and Steffen Peters, Guenter Seidel and Tiny Konyot in dressage. Peters, 48, is a four-time Olympian. Madden, 48, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, including the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
A three-time world medalist and three-time NCAA champion, Metzger is attempting a comeback at 52 years old in Greco-Roman. He will compete at 163 pounds and has a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials because he is a past Olympic team member (1980). “I’ve got to eliminate fear. I’ve to get back some of my killer instinct,” he said. Also attempting a comeback is Kurt Angle, a gold medalist at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. Angle, 43, is wrestling in the freestyle 211.5-pound class.
The four-time Olympian achieved a top rank for U.S. women, and an Olympic spot, following the U.S. Olympic Trials for Table Tennis in February. She will be one of four women competing for the United States in the North American Table Tennis Trials in April. Now operating her own table tennis club in California, Gao Jun, 43, is a native of China who began playing table tennis at age 5 and won a silver medal in doubles while competing for China at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.
The 2008 Olympic Trials winner in the women’s 20K racewalk, Dow will be 48 when the event is held at this year’s Olympic Trials on July 1. She is a three-time outdoor champion and five-time indoors champion.