120 years, 120 stories (Part 17) : 72 years of age cannot stop one from getting an Olympic medal


It has been long since we brought to you the story of doping, scandals and the unfortunate death of a cyclist during an Olympic event. And now we have returned with our special series, to tell you a story that only proves a certain truth of life – where there is a will, there is a way! This is the story of Oscar Swahn, who still holds an amazing record of the biggest sporting event in the world.

A Swedish by birth, Oscar Swahn participated in three Olympics in the early years of the competition. And truth be told, he took it by storm in every one of them.

Oscar was a sharp shooter. At the 1908 Summer Olympics, he took part in a few shooting events and did not return empty handed in any of them. He won two gold medals in the running deer, single shot events (individual and team), and got a bronze medal in the running deer double shot individual event. Well, you must be thinking what was so special in this bout of a shooter. There must be hundreds of athletes who have done the same over the years.

As a matter of fact, Oscar Swahn was indeed special! When he participated in the 1908 summer Olympics, he was 60 years old. And when he won that gold, he was only a year younger than Joshua Millner, the oldest gold medalist at that time.

But, Oscar was determined to make a new record, and so he came back, four years later. Sweden, his native country, played host to the 1912 Summer Olympics. The 64 year old was a member of the single shot running deer team once again. And they were crowned the champions yet again. Thus, Oscar Swahn became the oldest gold medal winner of the Olympics. He further increased his tally at the individual double shot running deer event and won a bronze.

He also participated in the individual single shot event, but could not win a medal. Incidentally, this even was won by none other than his son, Alfred Swahn.

However, Oscar did not stop with the record. He came back to the biggest sporting event once again in 1920. This time, at the age of 72, he was the oldest athlete to compete in an Olympics. Although he could not win a gold this time, he did not come to return empty handed. The man won a silver in the double shot running deer contest. With this, he made a new record of becoming the oldest medalist of all time (not counting the art competitions).

Oscar Swahn was also supposed to compete in the 1924 Games, but he had to drop out because of illness. He has truly proved that age can never stand in your way if you have the guts to do the impossible. He would certainly remain as one of the biggest inspirations to the sports lovers.


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Photo by National Media Museum