Merlene OTTEY

Merlene Ottey - Jamaica - Oldest ever Olympic medallist at age 40

Photo/Foto: George Herringshaw

Date: 22 September 2000

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      Tuesday, 10 May 1960
      Cold Spring, Jamaica
  • Jamaica

Merlene OTTEY - Jamaica - Oldest ever Olympic medallist at age 40

As Merlene Ottey's incredible athletics career extended well past her 35th birthday, she started to amass a number of achievements that were a testimony to both her endurance and the proclivity of her outstanding performances over the years. At the 1995 World Championships, Merlene became the oldest ever female gold medallist, when she won the 200m at an age of 35 years 92 days. At the 1997 World Championships in Athens, it appeared that Ottey was going to successfully defend her 200m title when she led into the straight, but she eventually finished third after fading in the closing stages. Ottey's bronze medal made her the oldest female medallist ever at 37 years 90 days, and also brought her total medals at World Championships to an incredible 14, four more than the next best performer, Carl Lewis (USA). In 1999, Ottey withdrew from what would have been her seventh World Championships when she was suspended following reports that she had tested positive for the drug Nandrolene on 5 July in Lucerne. However, a year later the IAAF Arbitration Panel decided that there were no grounds to maintain the suspension and had it immediately lifted. Many thought that this incident might signal the end of Ottey's career, but she returned to the track, at age 40, to compete in her sixth Olympic Games at Sydney in 2000. In Sydney, Ottey easily made it through the heats of the 100m (see photo above) on 22 September, and in the final the following day, she finished fourth, missing the bronze medal by only 0.01sec. However, some years later Marion Jones was stripped of her gold medal after admitting she had lied about her involvement in the use of illegal drugs, thus meaning that Ottey moved up a place into the bronze medal position. Merlene's final Olympic appearance in Jamaican colours came in the 4 x 100m relay, where she anchored the team to a second place finish, to earn her 8th Olympic medal (later, of course, to become 9). No female athlete in history had won more medals, and no medallist had ever been older than Ottey's 40 years 143 days. Remarkably though that was not the final time that Merlene would be seen at the Olympic Games; after becoming a Slovenian citizen in 2002 she would go on to represent them in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she reached the semi-finals of the 100m. (Ron Casey)