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Team USA’s Old-Timers Aren’t Dead Yet
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RIO DE JANEIRO — Exasperated, Tony Azevedo slapped the water with both hands and screamed, “Swim!” Azevedo’s teammates on the U.S. men’s water polo team were still on the far side of the pool after Spain scored on a counterattack and took a 3-2 lead. Azevedo was one of the few American players who had raced back to defend. The U.S. men fell 10-9 to Spain on Monday in group play despite five-time Olympian Azevedo’s relentless hustle (and one goal).

“They all call me grandpa,” said Azevedo, who is 34. “But when we’re training, I can still do everything, and I make fun of them for being 14 years younger.” Keeping himself in game shape takes more effort than it used to, though. Azevedo, whose black kinesio tape is visible through the water, running along his neck and down his right shoulder, said he basically lives in the training center. “I don’t even think in my first two Olympics I knew there was a training center,” he said.

By now, you’ve no doubt heard plenty about the longevity of Michael Phelps and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who are both attending their fifth Olympic Games. But there are others, like Azevedo, in this illustrious group of Olympic veterans. Twenty-eight of the more than 500 American Olympians in Rio have been to at least four Summer Olympics (including Rio),1 and despite their age (or perhaps because of it), many of these veterans are still in contention to medal.

Kim Rhode — one of the best skeet shooters in the world — will be competing in her sixth Summer Games this week and could become the first Olympian in history to medal in six consecutive Summer Games. Among current U.S. Olympians, only fellow shooter Emil Milev and equestrian rider Phillip Dutton have been to as many games as Rhode (although each represented a country other than the U.S. earlier in their careers — for Milev, it was Bulgaria and for Dutton, Australia).

At the U.S. track and field Olympic trials in Oregon last month, 32-year-old high jumper Chaunté Lowe jumped 6 feet, 7 inches, the best jump in the world this year, ahead of 18-year-old media darling Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham. Lowe and Cunningham both qualified for Rio and will jump for Team USA on Aug. 18. But that doesn’t mean Lowe is doling out Olympic wisdom gleaned from her previous three games.

“I think it’s a testament to Vashti that I won’t share everything with her,” Lowe told me from a rooftop overlooking an empty Olympic Stadium that will soon be filled with spectators watching her jump. “I can’t give her an advantage.” Lowe said there are “at least 100 things” she does differently now, in her fourth games — from arriving early for drug-testing protocols to pre-game preparation. But she won’t get much more specific than that. “Vashti’s still at home,” she said through a grin.

Everyone’s (rightly) looking to 19-year-olds Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles to rack up the golds, but don’t sleep on the old heads either: Four-time Olympian Sue Bird is likely to grab a fourth gold, Carmelo Anthony may get his third, and sprinter Allyson Felix, competing in her fourth Olympics, could snag a gold on the 4x400m relay team.

We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.

Footnotes

  1. Team USA’s data did not include Ryan Lochte’s 2012 games. We added him to the list and removed the Bryan brothers, who missed the 2016 Games over health concerns.

Allison McCann is a former visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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