Can you play sports and win at any age?

Can you play sports and win at any age?
Can you play sports and win at any age?

Monday June 3, the Roland Garros tournament 1 will begin its second week. That day, the Spaniard Rafael Nadal will celebrate his 38th birthday, including 14 successful springs on the clay court of Porte d’Auteuil. On this surface, none of his rivals were able to keep up with the Mallorcan tennis player, whose only recurring injuries predict an imminent end to his career. Having withdrawn from Paris last year, Rafael Nadal has barely played around twenty official matches since the start of 2023, due to health reasons.

The media-sporting soap opera of his return announced since the end of this winter left doubt hanging over his presence until the last moment, like a farewell gala at Roland Garros in the spring of 2024. And, in July, a final participation in the Olympic Games.

The upheavals of the announced end of the Spaniard’s career are reminiscent of other trajectories of big names who, before being reached by the age limit or repeated injuries, have to negotiate the moment to definitively end their career. The summer deadline for the Olympic Games disrupts plans. When Rafael Nadal strives to extend his playing time to push his resistance to the Games, others have chosen to save their strength to offer themselves a smooth exit.

Without the fear of missing the finale

This spring, the names are jostling. Nikola Karabatic, the icon of French handball, celebrated his 40th birthday in April and is applying to take his place at the Olympics, as he did during the European Championship last January. Guillaume Gille, the coach, then managed his presence and his influence to support the Blues to final success. Sprinter Christophe Lemaitre, bronze in the 200m in Rio in 2016, and pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, gold medalist in 2012, share the same impatience. Their blunted physical capital fuels doubt. Other examples are multiplying.

“It’s always tricky for a high-level athlete to plan the right time for retirement when with age comes physical problems,” explains Michel Brohan, physiotherapist for the French football team from 2004 to 2010. “ Especially so close to big events. We understand that no one wants to give up, but there is a logic: the more you have to stop because of injuries, the more likely you are to get injured again. Keeping the rhythm is the most important thing.

Roger Federer played and won until he was 35 almost non-stop. From the moment the injury happened, every time he started again, something happened next. To come back, you have to find regularity, give yourself a big objective, not immediate results. Look at Teddy Riner. Immediately after Tokyo in 2021, he only talked about Paris 2024, not about going for titles before then. He was focused on his goal. P

The more we get older, the more complicated it is to reiterate the efforts, to continue the training. It’s the language of the body, even if we always think we’re pushing the limits. The risk of injury is all the greater as the pressure is high during training to get where you are expected. »

Line of sight games

In March, Teddy Riner, nine-time world heavyweight champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist, suddenly spoke of his weariness after his tournament victory in Turkey. On May 5, he won one last one, in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), gaining confidence and valuable points to be seeded in Paris at the Games. At 35, he will participate in his 5are Games.

Suffering from injuries, the Guadeloupean giant skipped the European Championships and the World Championships this spring, and has dosed his preparation since the Tokyo Games in 2021. “There is nothing more important than the Games, nothing ‘equivalent. These are neither the Worlds nor the major tournaments. » There is no question of having the wrong objective or talking about retirement, but his successful preparation gives him ideas. First Paris 2024 and perhaps the challenge of going to Los Angeles in 2028. “I still have a lot under my belt, so why wouldn’t I continue after Paris? On the other hand, after 2028, I think it will be tough. »

The trajectory of Mélina Robert-Michon, 45 years old next July, is perfect. For his 7are Games, the 2016 Olympic discus silver medalist and oldest member of the French team has been relatively spared from injuries in her twenty-five year career. She also chose two maternity breaks. The perfect balance which sums up the success of the Lyon champion. “At some point, we will still have to turn the page,” smiles Teddy Riner. At the top.

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