drcheugsterA few weeks ago, we wrote about Dr Charles Eugster, the self-styled "World's Fittest Nonagenarian". We were subsequently contacted by his team and offered the chance to interview him, which we gladly accepted and which will be happening in December. Meanwhile, here is some news about what he has been doing and what he intends to be doing.


Charles Eugster has set himself the challenge of being not only the world's fittest nonagenarian - 3 times World Strenflex Champion - but now also the fastest. He is after a couple of world sprint records - 100m and 200m. Given that Charles has reached the age of 95 (!), these are age group world records which are held under the auspices of World Masters Athletics.  


Masters Athletics is a class of athletics created so that people who are past where they can compete with the fittest and fastest in open competition can still compete but against others of their own age group. What became Masters Athletics began as a movement in the 1960's in the USA when a civil lawyer named David Pain started to organise races that he called 'Master's Miles' with a starting age for participants of 40. These races developed into the U.S.National Masters Championships, in which all participants, again 40 years old and above, competed against each other whatever the age. At the second instance of the championships, in 1969, 10-year age-bands were introduced - subsequently reduced to 5-year age-bands - and now the age groups go up as high as anyone feels like putting in the work to stay functional as a competitive athlete. The World Masters Championships are held every two years and attract, as you'd expect, athletes from all over the world. The first of the outdoor World Masters events was held in Toronto in 1975 and since then they have been held in various cities across Europe, North and South America, Australia, Asia and Africa.


Irene Obera at
USATF Masters

(by John Keklak)

Individual countries have their own National Masters organisations and hold National Masters Championships, hence Dr Eugster's recent UK records. Having decided to take on the challenge, he spent 4 months in training, and at the British Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championship in August this year (2014) he did break the M95 (men aged 95-99 years) UK record for the 100m and 200m sprints. His next goal is to break the M95 World Records for those distances at the World Masters Athletics Championships, to be held in Lyons, France in 2015. His UK records are 25.76" for 100m and 58.03" for 200m. The current World marks for those distances are 20.41" for 100m and 48.69" for 200m, so he has quite some job on his hands. When we meet up with him, we'll be asking him and his coach Sylvia Gattiker how they will go about achieving this.


Is such a large improvement achievable? Unlike many of the athletes who feature in the records for Masters Athletics, Dr Charles is not a life-long sprinter who has been honing his technique for many years. Rather this is a completely new challenge for him and he is at a stage where he will be improving by leaps and bounds - so in theory it is possible.


Looking at the Masters Athletics world records and how they have progressed, it is hard to find direct comparisons to enable an assessment of how possible it might be. For instance, one can look at the W80 100m record and see how the record has been lowered over time, from 18.42" in 1993 to 17.07" in 2014. But this is a record of improvements made by a succession of athletes, not improvement of an individual athlete. As mentioned earlier, Charles Eugster is at a relatively early stage in his sprinting career, where large improvements are possible whereas in general the athletes setting the records in progressively older age groups have techniques honed over many years - so for them the scale of improvement Charles is after is less likely, even given their determination to push the boundaries of sporting achievement.


Earl Fee
(by Andrew Hecker
- My Camera)

And push them they do, because one of the things about Masters Athletics is that athletes can have extremely long careers. Looking through the records for 2014, American athlete Irene Obera set several new world records in the W80 age group, at the USATF Masters Championships in July 2014 in several different disciplines:- 100m, 200m, 400m, 80m short hurdles, 200m Hurdles and Long Jump.


What is really exceptional is - that same Irene Obera was a competitor at the very first World Masters in Toronto in 1975, and she has been competing and setting records ever since! Her records have been overtaken, but she keeps herself in the game and sets new records, in the next age group, for her successors to tilt at.


When that first World Masters Athletics Championships was held, in Toronto in 1975, the oldest age group, which was a men's age group, was 70 & over. Now the age groups in both men's and women's events go to 100 years and over, and as with the aforementioned Irene Obera, often with the same names appearing in ever increasing age groups. Celebrated Canadian runner Earl Fee began his masters career in 1985 at the age of 56, having not run competitively for 33 years. With over 50 Masters Athletics records, he has just set a new World Record for 200m hurdles in the M85 age group. Even at this advanced age, the records are not about just being able to get round the track. Earl Fee's M80 800m record, at 2:48.95" is just 50 seconds slower than the M50 record.


merlene ottey
Merlene Ottey
(by Kastom - Own work)

Not all Masters Athletics deals with people at the 70, 80 or 90-plus age groups. The starting age is now 35 for men and for women and we are seeing the entry into Masters Athletics of some very familiar names, for instance formerly Jamaican now Slovenian athlete Merlene Ottey. Ottey is someone who will be well-known to followers of athletics from her world-class performances at very many international meetings including the Olympics - she won 9 medals between 1980 and 2000 - the World Championships - 1983-97, 14 medals - and the World Indoor, Commonwealth and, since becoming a Slovenian citizen, the European Championships - at all of which she produced medal winning performances.


Though at 52 years old she became the oldest athlete to compete in the (open) European Athletics Championships when she competed as part of the Slovenian 4 x 100m team, Ottey is also now powering her way through the Masters age group World Records for her distances of 100m and 200m. She is the new W50 world record holder at 100m and 200m, both of which records were set in 2010. What's more, the records she set at W35, W40, W45 still stand. Perhaps we will see her competing every 5 years to achieve a clean sweep of records in every age group.


None of which comes anywhere close to answering the question, will Dr Charles Eugster in the space of a year be able to improve his running so as reduce his time for the 100 and 200m to a point where he is seriously challenging for the World Record? We will be aiming to find out the answers to this and other questions when we speak to him next month.