One for the ages

There are abundant examples of young and old achieving great things, but, sooner or later, time catches up on us all - there are no exceptions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 5:54am


A 77-year-old trained a horse that a 50-year-old rode to victory in the Preakness, which should give anyone worried about the greying of America something to cheer about.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens added to their own long résumés last Saturday with a win on Oxbow that denied Orb any chance of snagging racing's first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

"I get paid to spoil dreams," Lukas crowed afterward.

Shane Mosley was chasing some dreams of his own later that day, going down to Mexico to begin his comeback in the ring by beating Pablo Cano for his first win in four years.

The 41-year-old plans to fight until he wins a title, and if it might seem foolish, well, it's his own brain he's risking.

If those are stories for the aged, another athlete began a comeback on Monday and she's not even out of her teens. Olympic all-around gymnastics gold medallist Gabby Douglas returned to the gym to start training for what will probably be another Olympic bid in 2016, when she still won't be of legal drinking age.

Meanwhile, a 14-year-old from China is spending the spring playing in the Masters and other US PGA Tour events. Guan Tianlang missed the cut and didn't play last weekend at the Byron Nelson, but he's already got a spot in the Memorial Tournament this week - where Jack Nicklaus will get a close look at his game.

For those intrigued by age in sports, these are good times, indeed. Athletes are getting older and stars are getting younger, giving us a fascinating peek at the future while at the same time allowing us to revel in the past.

There's nothing new about it, of course, as anyone who remembers the name Satchel Paige understands. Paige spent the prime of his career in the American Negro leagues, finally making his Major League Baseball debut at the age of 42 after baseball was integrated and pitching for five years for the Cleveland Indians and St Louis Browns.

When Kansas City owner Charles Finley brought him back as a gimmick to pitch one game in 1965 at the age of 59, all Paige did was throw three innings of one-hit ball against the Red Sox.

On the flip side, the youngest player yet in the bigs pitched his first game while still two months shy of his 16th birthday.

Joe Nuxhall was inserted in a game in 1944 because Cincinnati's roster had been decimated by the second world war, and he didn't make it out of his first inning. Nuxhall, however, would come back eight years later to pitch again for the Reds and ended up winning 135 games for four teams in a solid if otherwise unspectacular career before beginning a second career as a broadcaster.

And then there was 18-year-old David Clyde, who won his first start after going directly from high school to the Texas Rangers in 1973. Clyde would pitch parts of five seasons in the majors, but won only 17 games after that while losing 33.

And sports history is littered with players who tried to hang on too long only to embarrass themselves, as Willie Mays did when he stumbled about the outfield while finishing his career with the New York Mets at the age of 42.

As Mosley is likely to find out, boxing is no place for the aged, despite George Foreman winning a heavyweight title at the age of 45 and Bernard Hopkins still fighting efficiently at 48.

Heavyweight great Joe Louis was among those who paid dearly for his attempt to come back at an advanced age, and anyone who saw him slumped and drooling in a wheelchair in his later years could only wonder why he ever tried.

And then there's golf, a game that embraces both young and old. Sports like gymnastics and tennis may offer up potential stars not even old enough to drive, but only golf can bring you compelling stories at both extremes of the age line.

I was in Scotland four years ago when 59-year-old Tom Watson needed only to par the 18th hole to win the British Open, a victory that would have lived in golf lore forever. He didn't, of course, and with the emotion sucked out of both him and the crowd, went on to lose a play-off to Stewart Cink.

It was a magical moment when time seemed to stand still. But in the end time won again, as it always seems to do.

I was also at the Masters this year when 14-year-old Guan not only didn't embarrass himself, but made the cut despite being penalised for slow play. Guan might have been the most composed teenager in Georgia that day, coming out to meet the media afterward and answering questions in English while refusing to question the legitimacy of a very questionable penalty.

Earlier this month, another Chinese golfer made history by becoming the youngest player to compete on the European Tour. Ye Wocheng shot consecutive 79s to miss the cut at the Volvo China Open, where some players had clubs older than him.

The schoolboy from Dongguan is 287 days younger than Guan, who was 13 when he competed in last year's China Open.

As if more proof was needed that time waits for no one.

Associated Press