Space | 10. September 2018 | posted by Friederike Wütscher

Study of older athletes at the World Championships in Málaga – successful athletes show an overwhelming response to the MAFS study

100 Meter Lauf der Frauen 80%2d84 Jahre
Credit: DLR
After the women’s 100-metre race in the age group 80-84

The first few days of the MAFS study of ageing athletes at the World Championships in Málaga are over, and the team remains amazed by the overwhelming response. Some subjects have already scheduled tests for the second week, as the examination appointments at the stadium are almost completely booked for the first six days of the world championships and the athletes need to compete in their events as well. In the early hours the team is already assembled at the venue to set up the measurement stations, start up the equipment and drink a welcome cup of coffee before the first highly motivated and extremely athletic subjects start knocking on the door to complete the tests. Breakfast is also prepared for athletes who are scheduled for the resting metabolism test, which requires them to arrive with an empty stomach.##markend##

A breeze from the nearby beach always coms in through the open door, and the competition announcements and cheers for the exceptional athletes in the stadium are also audible in the MAFS room. However, a full study schedule prevents the researchers from following the performances of the competitors in the events, so they have to wait hear about their accomplishments in the high jump, sprints, throwing, long-distance races and the many other disciplines. Whenever they can, the scientists try to catch a glimpse of the stadium to cheer on an athlete for whom they have developed a particular fondness. Among them is 84-year-old Dorothy from Great Britain, a secret star who captured the hearts of the team with her British composure, her wit and, above all, her indomitable spirit and engaging nature. Also, the 76-year old high jumper from Switzerland, Walter Zbinden, a throat cancer survivor who has participated in the studies on older athletes for 10 years already, is always in the minds of the comparatively young MAFS team.

Credit: DLR
76-year-old Walter during the ultrasound examination of his calf muscles

Despite the rapid pace of examinations at the individual stations and the rising temperature in the study room over the course of the day, the researchers need to remain extremely focused to make certain they collect the data as precisely as possible. All of the examinations are conducted in the same room, with just thin partition walls between the individual stations, so the scientists and subjects do their best to avoid disturbing the other examinations. That is not always easy, as the sports scientist Edwin Mulder spends his time cheering enthusiastically for the subjects completing the jumping test, to motivate them to leap as high as possible.

And it helps:

Credit: DLR
The British runner Dorothy is 84 years old

The athletes remain faithful to the principle of ambitious performance, not just in their various competitions, but during the study examinations as well. All of them are highly motivated and determined to score well in each of the tests. An additional source of motivation is that they benefit personally from the study by receiving the results of the performance examinations from lead investigator Jörn Rittweger or Edwin Mulder, which they can then incorporate into their training. Their sporting achievements are quite impressive and provoke appreciative astonishment among the young, rather athletic, researchers. For example, Brazilian Yoshiyuki Shimizu won the final of the 100-metre race for the age group 90-94 in a time of 18.46 seconds. The men’s 100-metre sprint in the age group 70-74 went to the American athlete Charles Allie, who recorded a time of 13.22 seconds – a performance that most of the study team could not come close to, even on their best days. The women also put many of the younger sporting aces on the MAFS team to shame – the South African Aletta Ungerer took the ladies title at 100 metres in the age group 70-74 in a time of 16.59 seconds.

The wide age range of the competitors seems to be a particular reason for the very good mood and great commitment on both sides. When the team gets together for a short feedback meeting in the evening – before ending the day over a Spanish beer – the conversation turns repeatedly to how impressed everyone is by the composure, performance and friendly manner of the athletes. Above all, the MAFS team is deeply impressed that the athletes remain so enthusiastically committed to their sport, often despite various difficulties and sacrifices. The diversity of cultural backgrounds, life experiences and the many personal achievements of the international contestants are other reasons why the team returns to their investigations each day with renewed enthusiasm. The athletes often stop by as the competition proceeds, to continue the initial exchange or to report on their results so far.

We look forward to many more great participants and continue to keep our fingers crossed!

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The MAFS team with athlete Dorothy

About the author

Friederike Wütscher is responsible for public relations at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. She presents the Institute’s diverse areas of work and research topics to the outside world. to authorpage

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