Golden Oldies: Aging athletes in Japan turn back the clock
TOKYO (AP) Last weekend, 48-year-old Japanese football player Kazuyoshi Miura broke his own record as the J-League's oldest scorer with a goal for second division club Yokohama FC.
Not to be outdone, 100-year-old Mieko Nagaoka became the first woman to complete a 1,500-meter freestyle swim in the 100 to 104 age category.
In a country that prides itself on longevity and a gung-ho spirit, an increasing number of aging athletes in Japan are turning back the clock while breaking some world records in the process.
Japan is aging at a faster pace than any other developed country and also has the longest life-expectancy of 86.2 years, according to the World Health Organization.
The combination of the two is producing some impressive athletic feats.
Japanese professional baseball player Masahiro Yamamoto is attempting this season to become the oldest pitcher on either side of the Pacific to win a game.
It's an honor currently held by American Jamie Moyer, who at the age of 49 years, 180 days, became the oldest winning pitcher in Major League Baseball with the Colorado Rockies in 2012. Entering his 29th season as a pro, all with the Chunichi Dragons, Yamamoto turns 50 on Aug. 11.
''It's an exceptional example of dedication to your craft being able to pitch professionally at his age,'' said American Trey Hillman, who managed in Japan from 2003-2007. ''It does shock me that anyone can do that with all the years of wear and tear on the arm.''
Yamamoto, currently rehabbing from a knee injury, became the oldest pitcher in Japanese baseball to win a game last season at 49 years, 25 days when he pitched five scoreless innings in a 6-0 win over the Hanshin Tigers on Sept. 5.
The veteran left-hander says inspiring people of his generation helps keep him motivated.
''I deal with a lot of aches and pains and there are days I don't want to get out of bed,'' Yamamoto said in an interview at the Japan National Press Club. ''But if I can be an inspiration to people of my generation that keeps me going.''
Ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, who is 42, became the oldest World Cup winner in history when he finished first at an event at Ruka, Finland, on Nov. 29.
Kasai has been on the global circuit since 1989. He has appeared at seven Winter Olympics, most recently winning a large hill individual silver medal at Sochi last year.
Kasai holds the records for most individual starts (463), team starts (49), and the most seasons performing in the World Cup (26).
Tennis player Kimiko Date-Krumm, 44, has won more than 200 tournament matches. She came out of retirement in 2008 and became the oldest player to beat a Top 10 player when she defeated Samantha Stosur in 2010 aged 40.
As impressive as these feats are, none of them can match Nagaoka.
The centenarian swimmer finished in what is now a world-record time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 54 seconds, according to the Japan Masters Swimming Association.