Fifty-year-old Merlene Ottey became the oldest athlete to compete at the European Championships after anchoring Slovenia’s 4x100 women’s relay team on Saturday. Ottey, a naturalised Slovenian of Jamaican origin, surpassed the record previously held by 47-year-old French marathon runner Nicole Brakebusch-Leveque.
Ottey said competing at 50 meant as much as any of the 29 medals she’s won at major competitions since her debut in 1979.
“It’s right up there with all the medals I have won,” Ottey said. “I don’t know if there’s any athlete over 40 competing out here in sprinting, so to be competing at 50 is great.” Slovenia failed to reach Sunday’s final at Barcelona’s Olympic stadium after it finished seventh with a time of 44.30 seconds.
“My leg was difficult because I had the anchor leg,” Ottey said. “Normally I catch people, but this time I couldn’t catch anybody so it was difficult.” Ottey has competed at seven Olympic Games, starting with Moscow in 1980. She won bronze in the 200 in the 1992 Barcelona Games, when she was 32. But running now was providing new challenges. “This is more than I ever got in my whole life,” Ottey said. “I find the challenge great, it brings me greater joy to compete with people that are younger. (But) it didn’t cross my mind (at 40) that I would still be running now. I thought I would retire.” The Hanover-born Ottey isn’t going to stop either as she hopes to qualify for next year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea, in the individual sprints or relay team.
Ottey’s secret? A mixture of nature and dedication, she figures. “I guess it’s my genes, and I like to run you know, so that’s it.”