THERE is a sharp point made in Kathryn Mitchell’s javelin throw in Japan this week.
The Ballarat athlete staked a worlds qualifier of 63.23 metres for London 2017 – well clear of the 61.4m standard – and put forward her name to become Australia’s oldest female athlete contesting an IAAF world track-and-field championships.
Should Mitchell be selected for the August showdowns, she will be 35 years old.
Is it really that old?
When does the age barrier point come into play physically or is the tipping point more mental?
Mitchell quips the best years of her career are a decade too late. At the same time, Mitchell has been training and preparing in China in what she told Athletics Australia was a “hard environment, both physically and mentally”.
You have to still have the drive and passions to want to endure that sort of stuff.
But it is also about training smarter.
For some elite athletes, wear and tear on their bodies forces them out of putting their game on the highest levels. For others, there can be an understandable drop in motivation to train: changing life and family priorities; burn out; or, pulling up stumps on a high note to leave on their terms.
But there is still a general societal expectation and gauge. For example, most expect Olympic gymnasts to retire by 20 or their early 20s – and many do.
Uzbekistani Oksana Chusovitina suited up in the Rio Olympics last year aged 41 and two months. Chusovitina found she did not need to physically train as much as her teammates because she already had the muscle memory. Her preparation was mental.
Chusovitina’s son was older than the youngest gymnast competing in Rio.
Importantly, Chusovitina said she was still having fun.
Athletics is an incredibly diverse sport, drawing on different strength for each discipline. Age expectations vary. Javelin is even less clear cut.
Mitchell’s strong sprint and jump work as a teenager made her a prime candidate for javelin, a sport relying on flexibility, mobility and timing for base power.
She has evolved her technique, the most dramatic in reinventing her game under the only man to throw a javelin more than 100m, Uwe Kohn, who has been her coach the past seven years.
Mitchell said she still believed in achieving big things and improving. Her aim was to inspire persistence for younger athletes.
Really, Mitchell is inspiration for people of all ages, particularly women, to keep involved in sport. It need not be at the highest levels, but to find a sport you enjoy that will keep challenging you.
Age should be no excuse for most people to stop moving.
Five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat says he does not think about his age. He won the United States’ 5000m run at Olympic trials last year.
“I don’t believe I’m old. Because if I believe I’m old, I’m gonna run like an old man,” Lagat told Sports Illustrated.
Mitchell is set for action this weekend in the United States at a Eugene Diamond League meet, aiming to push boundaries again.