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Although he’s a Masters athletics champion in South Africa, 85-year-old Borg Stannius began his competitive career on a school playground in Denmark. A few boys had a competition to see who could throw a cricket ball the furthest, and the young Borg whipped everyone with metres to spare. He was talked into taking up the javelin, which he took as far as the Danish national team before leaving the country.
He then played sports socially but only took up athletics again at the age of 70 after having moved to South Africa. In August he’ll take part in the weights pentathlon (discus, javelin, weight throw, hammer throw and shot put) at the World Masters Games in Brazil.
This year he’s moved up into the 85 to 89 age group, and being the youngster he knows he’s a threat. “Every time I get into a new age group, I break the records and then I just keep going for the hell of it,” he says. “Then I hold the records until somebody comes up and does something about it.”
That refreshing confidence is one of the reasons why he can still make turns in the concrete circle and hurl weights through the air. “Nobody comes along in my age group that I can compete against,” he says, “So I go for the record. Breaking records is my game.”
As you get older you naturally lose your speed, but you don’t necessarily lose your strength, Stannius explains. “I feel better now than I have ever felt and I feel that I’m stronger than I was earlier in life. I could lift as much now as I could ever do. I feel marvellous.”
To say it and mean it at 85 years of age is a testament to training done with the perfect balance of effort, enthusiasm, cautiousness and downright stubbornness. Profiling men like Stannius is unlike interviewing “modern” athletes. A young athlete is a picture of sports going well; an old one is a picture of sports done properly. Sportsmen of the moment will often talk in clichés and sing the praises of products and training methods, whereas older athletes – with their firmer handshakes and deeper stares – embody an unspoken doggedness that’s got them through the challenges of their game for decades.