Olympics Athletes Are Older (and Younger) Than You Might Think

People talk a lot about the bittersweet feelings that surround age-related milestones like turning 30 or 40. But one milestone you don't hear so much about: when you realize you're older than all the Olympic athletes competing in your favorite sport. Did I really think I would one day qualify to join the USA Gymnastics team? No. Did it still sting when I realized I may have officially aged out of even trying? Yes.

But how old are Olympic athletes, actually? With the trials for the highly anticipated Paris 2024 Games underway, you may have noticed some serious variation in the ages of the qualifying athletes. Ayumi Fukushima, a Japanese athlete who's expected to qualify to compete as a breakdancer, will be 41 years old during the Olympics. Meanwhile, Jeff Dunne earned a place on the Australian breaking team at just 16.

Believe it or not, there's no specific age limit for competing in the Olympic Games. Instead, age eligibility depends on each sports' international federation. For example, diving has a minimum age requirement of 14 years old, while gymnastics requires artistic gymnasts to be at least 16 years old, and swimming, surfing, and skateboarding have no minimum age requirement.

So while the age limitations for the Olympics aren't cut and dry, that leaves a mega-talented roster of athletes ranging from the teens to upper 40s. To give you a sense of the average age of an Olympic athlete, we broke down everything you need to know.

What Is the Average Age For an Olympic Athlete?

The data is limited, but an older 2016 study published in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise analyzed the ages of 3,548 athletes (across 44 sports) who delivered stellar performances in the London 2012 Olympics. The findings: 72 percent of Olympic athletes were between 20 and 30 years old, with the average age for men and women coming in at 27 and 26.2 years old, respectively. A full 99 percent were under the age of 40, but the ages ranged from 14 to 52.8 years old.

In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the average age of all 11,700 athletes was 27, the highest it had been since 1948, reports the Washington Post.

Who Is the Oldest Athlete to Compete in the Olympics?

The oldest Olympian to ever compete in the Games is Swedish shooter, Oscar Swahn. Remarkably, he won his first Olympic gold medal at 60 years old in 1908, then competed in two more Olympic Games before clinching the oldest Olympian record at 72 years old (and 281 days) at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Who Is the Youngest Athlete to Compete in the Olympics?

The youngest Olympian in the history of the Games is Greek gymnast, Dimitrios Loundras. Not only did he make his Olympic debut at just 10 years old, but the male gymnast was also one of the first athletes to ever compete in the modern Olympic Games during the inaugural 1986 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. He has held the record ever since, even though some events — including swimming — still have no age minimum, so theoretically a younger athlete could qualify.

Athletes to Watch at the 2024 Paris Olympics

Young Athletes:

The summer Olympics are expected to be packed with talent, but the following are young athletes that should definitely be on your radar.

  • Dominika Banevic (age 16) will compete for Lithuania in the inaugural women's breaking.
  • Quan Hongchan (age 17) will compete for China in women's platform diving.
  • Kaylia Nemour (age 17) will compete for Algeria in women's gymnastics.
  • Fred Richard (age 19) will compete for the United States in men's gymnastics.
  • Darja Varfolomeev (age 17) will compete for Germany in women's rhythmic gymnastics.
  • Gavin Bottger (age 17) will compete for the United States in men's skateboarding (also known as "park").
  • Sky Brown (age 15) will compete for Great Britain in women's skateboarding (also known as "park").
  • Lamine Yamal (age 16) will compete for Spain in men's soccer.
  • Sam Watson (age 18) will compete for the United States in men's speed climbing.
  • Summer McIntosh (age 17) will compete for Canada in women's swimming.

Older Athletes:

Young talent may be fresh for the upcoming Games, but keep an eye out for these seasoned athletes who are just as competitive.

  • Bill May (age 45) will compete for the United States in men's artistic swimming.
  • LeBron James (age 39) will compete for the United States in men's basketball.
  • Diana Taurasi (age 41) will compete for the United States in women's basketball.
  • Ben Maher (age 41) will compete for Great Britain in men's equestrian.
  • Nikola Karabatic (age 40) will compete for France in men's handball.
  • Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (age 37) will compete for Jamaica in women's track and field.
  • Jordan Larson (age 37) will compete for the United States in women's volleyball.
  • Mijain Lopez (age 41) will compete for Cuba in men's wrestling.

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based freelance writer and graduate from Emory University and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her work has appeared in PS, Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.