There are many reasons Olympic athletes compete. There are also many reasons Olympic athletes compete past their prime.
The main reason? Money. Yes, from endorsements to sponsors, there are a lot of advantages for an athlete to continue competing and, ideally, to continue winning.
Case in point: Michael Phelps.
“He’s going to be 31 years old, and if there wasn’t the kind of money he’s able to garner, I don’t think he would have stayed in the sport,” Olympic swimming legend Mark Spitz said in studio on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Why? He’s already won so many gold medals and silver and bronze. I’m not one for projections, but I think that as long as he stays healthy, he’s going win the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly, probably the 200 individual medley, swim on three relays and he’s going to come back with a couple of gold medals at 31 years old.”
If Phelps adds to his medal collection – he has 22 overall, including 18 gold – he will do so in potentially dangerous environments. There are concerns about violence in Brazil, as well as a housing shortage, among other issues.
Spitz, who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Games in Munich, will be in Rio providing television coverage with Carl Lewis and Nadia Comaneci. Spitz is not worried about what could occur in Brazil – at least not in terms of the actual competitions.
“The city of Rio bid for the Olympic Games and part of the mandate of a city in the Olympic Games is to provide the venues of competition, some logistics with hotels for the press and obviously a village for all the athletes,” he explained. “But what most people don’t understand is they’re not responsible for conducting the sports events. Like in swimming, we have FINA, (the International Swimming Federation), and that’s our governing-rules body. They actually put on the swimming meet. They are experts at doing that. They bring their own officials in there. They have all the timing equipment. So from that point of view, all of the athletic events will go on without a hitch – provided, of course, that they build a pool that’s 50 meters exactly. But they’re supposed to, a year in advance or even further out than that, have some sort of an international competition to basically go through the exercise of having the event in that venue so that the people that host that event understand the logistics of the movement, the crowd movement and all that other stuff. That will probably be fine.
“I remember that in Athens we were talking about the same thing about they’re not going to be ready,” Spitz continued. “Well, the pools were there and things just happened. Somehow the Greeks made it happen. Now, are the Brazilians going to make it happen? I think so. I don’t think that their Brazilian government is hosting the games. They’re having some issues with trying to impeach their president (Dilma Rousseff) and a bunch of other stuff like that. I think that will actually fall by the wayside and the opening ceremonies will go off without a hitch. I’m hoping that the rest of the program will as well.”