Masters athletics (track and field)

Masters athletics (track and field)

Masters athletics is a class of track and field competition featuring five-year age groups beginning at age 35. Men as old as 104 and women in their 90s have competed in running, jumping and throwing events. Masters are sometimes known as veterans.


Since at least the early 1930s, middle-aged athletes in Europe, Australia and New Zealand have competed with younger athletes, especially in cross country and road races. Some were active into their 50s. And on the track, Briton Don Finlay recorded a 14.4-second mark in the 120-yard high hurdles in 1949 at age 40, according to the biennial handbook published by World Masters Athletics.

In 1966, San Diego civil lawyer David Pain began organizing what he called "masters miles" at indoor and outdoor track meets, and set the minimum age at 40. He and others soon launched the U.S. National Masters Championships, where everyone 40 and over competed together. The inaugural meet, at San Diego's Balboa Stadium, was held July 19-20, 1968, and attracted 186 competitors. The second U.S. masters nationals, July 3-6, 1969, drew 200 athletes and introduced 10-year age groups for all events, recited "Masters Track and Field: A History" by Leonard T. Olson.

Inspired by these first nationals, participants founded their own masters meets across the United States and into Canada. Also helping light a fire under sedentary seniors was retired Air Force Maj. Kenneth H. Cooper, a physician whose 1968 book "Aerobics" created a running craze. Former University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, who in 1962 witnessed older people doing "jogging" in New Zealand, also is credited with fanning masters flames in the 1960s.

In October 1971, Pain and his travel-agent wife, Helen, traveled to London, Munich, Copenhagen and several other European cities to lay the groundwork for a historic masters track tour of Europe, Olson's book recalled. In late-summer 1972, the Pains took 152 mainly U.S. and Canadian masters athletes to London, Helsinki, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Cologne for age-group track meets and distance races -- thus jump-starting the worldwide masters track movement. In December 1973, another tour by the Pains, with 51 athletes, traveled to the South Pacific and Oceania for more age-group competitions.

The first World Masters Championships were held August 11-16, 1975, in Toronto, Ontario. Men and women from 32 nations took part. A meeting at the University of Toronto saw the election of a steering committee to plan an international governing body for masters track.

The World Association of Veteran Athletes was founded August 9, 1977, at the second World Masters Athletics Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. World masters championships have been held outdoors every two years ever since, and a biennial World Masters Indoor Championships debuted in March 2004 in Sindelfingen, Germany. The most recent outdoor world meet was in 2007 in Riccione, Italy. The next ones are in Lahti, Finland (2009) and Sacramento, California (2011).

WAVA, as it was known, later changed its name to World Masters Athletics and continues to be the sport's governing body. WMA has been working to coordinate its outdoor championship schedule with the International Masters Games Association, which holds the multisport World Masters Games every four years.

Age-Graded Tables

A major contribution of masters athletics was the introduction of the Age-Graded Tables, a set of "age factors" and "age standards" that, when multiplied by a time or distance, allow athletes of any age and event to compare their performances with that of any other athlete. According to "Age-Graded Tables" published by National Masters News, individual statisticians first devised the tables in the mid-1970s as a way of helping score multi-event competitions for older athletes, such as the decathlon, heptathlon and indoor pentathlon.

The first official Age-Graded Tables were compiled by WAVA and published by National Masters News in 1989. Revisions (taking into account improved performances at all ages) were released in 1991, 1994 and 2006. The tables can be applied to five-year age groups or individual ages from 8 to 100. The only official use of the Age-Graded Tables by WMA is in scoring multi-event competitions. But the Age-Graded Tables have been incorporated into track meet management software by Hy-Tek and others and used to determine age-graded winners in many other competitions, especially road runs.

The tables also show how an older athlete's performance compares with an Open (20-30) athlete's mark. But the tables have been controversial. For example, Jamaican-born Olympian Merlene Ottey in 2006 ran the 100-meter dash in 11.34 seconds at the age of 46. The Age-Graded Tables suggest that performance corresponds to an Open (ages 20-30) equivalent of 10.122. Since the open world record for women is 10.49 (by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988), Ottey's converted mark seems implausible. In fact, the WMA committee has excluded certain performances as "nonrepresentative," and not used them in designing the Age-Graded Tables.

External links

* [ World Masters Athletics] - Official site
* [ European Veterans Athletic Association] - Official site
* [ International Masters Games Association] - Official site
* [ Asia Masters Athletics] - Official site
* [ USA Track & Field masters] - Official site
* [ Circulo Argentino de Atletas Veteranos] - Official site
* [ Australian Masters Athletics site] - Official site

* [ The Masters Track & Field Home Page]
* [ archive]
* [ Masters Track and Field World Rankings]
* [ National Masters News]
* [ Annette's Seite]
* [ Jess Brewer's Age-Graded Tables lookup form]
* [ Results of Toronto 1975] -
* [ 2006 Age-Grading Online Lookup] -

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