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Age Range at Olympics Surprising

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If you think you are too old or too young to compete in the Olympics, you may be in for a shock. As VOA's Steve Schy covers the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, he found out the age of the competitors spans a surprisingly wide range.

When most people think of Olympic athletes, they think of young people who are in the prime of life and the peak of their athletic skills. And for the most part they would be right. Most of the Olympians are in their early and mid 20s.

Figures are not available yet for the current Turin Olympics, but at the last Winter Games, the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the average age for the women was 25, while the men averaged 26 years and eight months of age.

But that does not even get close to the extremes. A new record for the oldest-ever male Winter Olympian has already been set at the Turin Games. Scott Baird, a member of the United States curling team from Bemidji, Minnesota, was 54 years and 282 days old when he competed in his team's opening game.

That surpassed the previous record set by British athlete James Coates, who competed in skeleton at the 1948 Winter Games in Saint Moritz at the age of 53 years, 328 days. Baird told VOA Sports how it feels to set the first record at the Turin Olympics.

"Well, I was a little bit surprised when I found out, but I thought, its pretty cool. I still consider myself an athlete and feel young enough at heart to compete. So I am excited about just being here and being a part of team USA," he said.

But do not look for Scott Baird to take the record to a new level at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada.

"Actually, I am pretty sure this is going to be it for me," he said. "I think 2006 is probably the end of my competitive curling career. You know, I will go back into just curling leagues and maybe seniors, and might even step back into coaching a little bit in the future."

The oldest woman to ever participate in the Winter Games is Anne Abernathy, who is representing the Virgin Islands at the Turin Olympics. It was the sixth appearance for the 52-year-old, who is affectionately known as Grandma Luge.

Unfortunately, Abernathy broke her wrist when she wiped out during a training run Sunday and was unable to compete this time around. No word yet on whether she will try to make the team headed for Vancouver in 2010.

At the other end of the spectrum, the youngest competitors here in Turin are 14-year-old Sun Zhifeng of China and 15-year-old Manuel Pietropoli of Italy. Sun represented China in the women's halfpipe snowboard event, while Pietropoli is a halfpipe snowboarder from Italy.

Pietropoli is the youngest-ever male competitor at the Winter Games, taking over the title from Germany's Jan Hoffmann, a figure skater at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.

And although Sun is very young, the women's record belongs to British figure skater Cecilia Colledge. She took part in the 1932 Olympics at Lake Placid at the astonishingly young age of 11.

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