It’s been a good Olympics for age and experience prevailing over youthful exuberance. From swimmer Michael Phelps (age 31) to cyclist Kristin Armstrong (she just turned 43), several Americans will exit the Games with gold medals in the twilights of their careers.
On the track, Usain Bolt’s remarkable streak of winning 100- and 200-meter sprints in three consecutive Olympics might earn him honorary old guy status, but the 29-year-old Bolt is still a baby compared to a pair of 41-year-old American runners, Meb Keflezighi and Bernard Lagat, who both hope to contend for medals in the final days of competition. Even if they don’t finish on the podium, their ability to remain fit and competitive on the world stage into their 40s has been impressive.
Keflezighi and Lagat bring formidable resumes to their races— Keflezighi will run the marathon on Sunday morning, while Lagat will contest the 5,000-meter race on Saturday evening after qualifying with a solid 13:26.02 effort in his semifinal heat on Wednesday.
The two men are already legends in the sport, but they can certainly cement their legacies with strong performances. Keflezighi earned the silver medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon and finished in fourth place in the 2012 Games at age 37. He also won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon, among many other notable results. Lagat earned a bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic 1,500-meter race, then followed with a silver in that event in 2004. He’s stood on the podium in multiple world championships, competing in events at the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meter distances, both indoors and outdoors. Lagat also placed fourth in the 2012 Olympics at age 37, just missing a bronze medal in the 5,000.
Both men immigrated to the U.S. from Africa: Keflezighi from Eritrea in 1975, Lagat from Kenya (the country he represented in his first two Olympics) in 2004. As a recent article in The New Yorker revealed, Keflezighi and Lagat share a scrupulous attitude about training for their events, and both display a joy for running that appears to be undiminished from their younger years. And a 2015 article in Competitor.com outlined the over-40 success of Keflezighi, Lagat and Deena Kastor.
The Olympics are not without a precedence of relatively older runners earning medals. In 2008, Constantina Diţă of Romania won the marathon in the Beijing Olympics, while Carlos Lopes of Portugal won the 1984 Olympic marathon in Los Angeles at age 37.
Keflezighi, a four-time Olympian, earned a spot on the U.S. team by finishing second at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles, outrunning dozens of runners 10 to 15 years his junior. Lagat was equally impressive in earning his spot on the team, winning the 5,000-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Trials on the track on July 9 in Eugene, Ore. He closed with a furious 52.8-second final 400 meters to win the race and earn the chance to compete in his fifth Olympics—his third for the U.S. after two for his native Kenya.
Neither is considered a clear medal favorite in their events—but it’s a safe bet that none of their competitors will be overlooking this pair of ageless athletes.