Nadal, Ronaldo, Hamilton… Why athletes have longer and longer careers

We tend to call them « veterans », these athletes over 35, who refuse to retire and for good reason, they always seem to be in top form, holding the bar against new generations. Daniil Medvedev knows something about it, at 25, the Russian who led 2 sets to 0 in the Australian Open final, finally lost to a Rafael Nadal, 10 years his senior, more resilient than ever. . By winning a 21st Grand Slam title, the Spaniard places himself, at 35 soon to be 36, at the top of the world tennis hierarchy.

And, while a few years ago many saw him retiring early due to his very physical style of play, Rafael Nadal looks ready to play for a few more years. Same observation for his great rival Novak Djokovic, also one of the greatest champions of his sport at almost 35 years old.

The question is bigger for Roger Federer, but he too has not given up yet since he plans to play Wimbledon this season at almost 42 years old.

An extraordinary generation

But it’s not just in tennis that these veterans are resisting. Lionel Messi, 34, won a 7th Ballon d’Or at the end of November. His rival Cristiano Ronaldo, has relaunched his career at Manchester United, at 37 years old. At 37 too, LeBron James, titled two years ago, playing his 19th season in the NBA.

Unhappy with the Blues at the European Handball Championships, Nikola Karabatic for his part seems determined to return, soon to be 38 years old. Again like Sébastien Ogier, crowned world rally champion for the 8th time last November at 38, or a Tom Brady, considered the greatest American football player of all time, who casts doubt on his retirement at 44, the current generation of athletes is certainly one most prosperous, if not the most successful in the history of sport.

How to explain these incredible longevities? It is first of all our consumption of sport in general that has changed, it is exponential. Football, tennis, cycling, basketball, and so many others bring together millions of viewers around the world, making sportspeople true ultra-mediatized world stars, much more than in the 20th century. A phenomenon that necessarily pushes some athletes to embrace long careers.

The quest for records

« 21 » is the number that is on all the front pages of the sports newspapers this Monday. 21, like the Grand Slam record number won by Nadal after his victory at the Australian Open on Sunday. Like an obsession with figures, statistics, omnipresent in the media.

« My happiness does not depend on having more Grand Slams than Federer and Djokovic or if they will have more than me », nevertheless relativized the Spaniard before his final. If this is not where Rafa will find his motivation, he is certain that this quest for records, these goals, motivate some athletes to continue as long as possible.

For example the Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, announced close to retirement for 3 years. Yet at 37, the Briton, who came very close to an 8th World Champion title last season, will put on the gloves again. « I think he will race and he wants to win that eighth world championship title to be the most successful driver in Formula 1 history, » former driver Jenson Benton told Sky.

A lifestyle that stands the test of time

This Monday in the Italian press, Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he wanted to extend with AC Milan to play the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with Sweden, when he will be 41 years old. « Age is a challenge. On the pitch I feel young, because my head thinks fast and in thought I feel like I’m managing to do everything like ten years ago, » he said. said the Swede to The Gazzetta dello Sport.

If all the great athletes we have mentioned have one thing in common, their unfailing mental strength, they remain athletes whose physique is put to the test. « The physical must follow the head and he doesn’t always follow her. That’s life, the body changes. Today, the goal is to manage the physical. After 35 years, it is the body that dictates the calendar », explains Ibrahimovic. There too, the evolution of training techniques, recovery, stress management, the management of injuries have evolved a lot.

The fact remains that the greatest champions of sport make great sacrifices in their lifestyle and leave nothing to chance. « I want to teach the youngest to take care of their bodies, to drink well, to sleep well, to train hard, to listen to their fathers who give good advice », explained Cristiano Ronaldo during an event in Dubai in 2020. « Age Doesn’t Matter, what matters is what you give to your mind and body“Others, like tennis player Novak Djokovic, still opt for gluten-free food or mediation.

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